New Governor Promises to Solve Land Disputes

Phnom Penh’s new governor used his swearing-in ceremony on Friday to boldly vow to solve some of the municipality’s longest-running and most high-emotive land disputes.

Pa Socheatvong officially took over on Friday from outgoing governor Kep Chuktema, who served as the city’s chief for 10 years and whose administration will likely be best remembered for the widely unpopular filling in of Boeng Kak lake and the violent land evictions there and at the Borei Keila community, whose landless residents continue to protest regularly in Phnom Penh.

“At this time, let me thank and offer my gratitude to the Royal Government that believed in me to get the position of Phnom Penh governor,” Mr. Socheatvong said at a swearing-in ceremony at City Hall, which was attended by Interior Minister Sar Kheng.

“We all vow to continue to solve the remaining problems such as public order and traffic problems, environment and green city problems, infrastructure—especially roads, drainage and clean water problems, and some remaining land disputes such as the Boeng Kak lake area, the Borei Keila area and the Thmar Kaul community and reservoirs,” said Mr. Socheatvong, who was previously the city’s deputy governor.

In his final speech as governor, Mr. Chuktema insisted that Phnom Penh had prospered economically during his tenure, and that he had focused his attention on rooting out criminal gangs, drugs, robbery and terrorism, as well as infrastructure needs.

“Even though we worked hard to develop these achievements… Phnom Penh still has some problems remaining, such as security and social safety, land disputes, traffic jams, transport and environment problems,” Mr. Chuktema said of the problems facing the city.

“I hope that the new Phnom Penh governor will continue to become successful and that the city continues to be as beautiful as before,” he said.

Mr. Chuktema will now stand as a ruling party candidate in the July 28 national elections.

Addressing the incoming and outgoing governors and their staff, Mr. Kheng advised city officials to cooperate with each other, and admitted that running the capital city was not an easy task.

“I believe Phnom Penh is difficult to manage, because there are a lot of problems,” he said.

Commenting on the city’s increasingly chaotic traffic problems, Mr. Kheng said that he has ordered the National Police to improve policing. However, Mr. Kheng admitted that some people that “have power do not respect the law when they are wrong.”

“They argue with traffic police and threaten them. But we all must respect the law,” Mr. Kheng said.

“I think the first people who should respect the law are the high-ranking, and the second people are the rich. If these people respect the law, the lower people will follow them and respect the law too,” he said.

Commenting on the new governor’s vow to solve long-running land disputes, Boeng Kak anti-eviction activist Tep Vanny called on Mr. Socheatvong to stand true to his promise.

“We hope that he will help to solve our problems like he said, and we ask him to help find the justice to release [imprisoned Boeng Kak activist] Yorm Bopha too. We request that he please do what he has said he will,” Ms. Vanny said.

“We will have to wait and see whether he can solve this problem for us or not,” she added.

Sia Phearum, director of land rights NGO Housing Rights Task Force, said he feared the new governor’s promise was mere electioneering ahead of the July 28 national election.

“I am afraid that he just promised this before the national election,” Mr. Phearum said.

Elsewhere in the country, appointment ceremonies for new governors were held in Oddar Meanchey and Kandal provinces. Former Preah Vihear deputy governor Sar Thavy was appointed as Oddar Meanchey provincial governor, while Kandal provincial governor Chhun Sirun was replaced by his deputy, Phay Bunchhoeun.

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