Land Disputes Languish as US Military Exercises Approach

Land disputes remain unresolved at a Kompong Speu province military base which is to host exercises as part of a multinational peacekeeping event jointly sponsored by the Cambodian and US militaries beginning on Friday

As a mark of the growing intimacy of military relations with the US, Cambodia is scheduled to host three weeks of training and field exercises dubbed Angkor Sentinel 10, in which military units from other East Asian nations will also participate.

Roth Thavy, an investigator in Kompong Speu for the human rights organization Adhoc, said yesterday that land disputes concerning hundreds of hectares at the ACO Tank Command headquarters in Phnom Sruoch district had languished without resolution, in one case since 2003.

“In both cases, there is no resolution in favor of the villagers at all,” he said.

Built with US funds, a peacekeeping training center opened at the base in May and will be the scene of field exercises on July 17, according to Prak Sokhonn, secretary of state at the Council of Ministers.

The US Embassy was closed yesterday in observance of Independence Day, and questions submitted to a spokesman were not immediately answered. The embassy has defended its administration of US military relations here, saying they are the subject of strict vetting.

However the US State Department’s human rights bureau reported in 2008 that 40 soldiers at the ACO Tank Command had used an armored vehicle to destroy crops and fences on 24 hectares of land occupied by 25 families.

Although the families complained as far back as 2002 to the cadastral commission and National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution that they had lived on the land for over 20 years, the case had not been resolved, according to the report.

According to Mr Thavy, 318 families in five villages in Maha Saing commune say that that 345 hectares have been appropriated by the tank command.

Mr Thavy said that in 2008 Prime Minister Hun Sen had created a joint committee to resolve a different land dispute, which arose in 2006, in which 96 families in four Taing Sya commune villages accuse the base of seizing 141 hectares of farmland.

No action has been taken, he said, adding that while families complained that they were denied access to the land, the families of RCAF personnel were allowed to settle there.

Mr Sokhonn of the Council of Ministers said yesterday that the land disputes were being addressed by the government. The disputes were a result of the villagers’ encroachment on state land, he said.

“From year to year, people started farming, settling on the land legally belonging to the ministry of national defense,” he said. “Any dispute is still ongoing.”

“To be clear, the exercise will not be near the disputed land,” he said, adding that he had not been informed that live fire exercises were scheduled to occur at the peacekeeping training center.

Lieutenant General Sem Sovanny, director of peacekeeping at the Defense Ministry, declined to comment yesterday.



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