Seven poor Phnom Penh communities, home to 2,597 families, have been denied the opportunity to receive land titles for their homes in Chamkar Mon district, officials said yesterday.
According to a notice posted at the Tonle Bassac commune office, signed by the director of the Municipal Department of Land Management Chhay Rithysen, the communities were deemed too “complex” to participate in the land title adjudication process, which began Friday with a community meeting.
“In Tonle Bassac commune, seven areas are too complex to register land titles. Some people are living temporarily on the state’s land…in some areas people are living temporarily on the pagoda’s land, and in other areas people live together on many floors with different families (as in the Building),” the notice read.
The communities deemed ineligible for official titles include plots of land behind the Agriculture Ministry and Chamkar Mon district office, the T-85 and T-87 areas, settlements around Wat Keo Preah Phleung and Wat Pra You Vong, and the so-called Building, located directly beside the former site of the Dey Krahorm community, which was evicted in January.
Tonle Bassac commune Chief Sok Puthy said yesterday that 2,597 families live in the seven ineligible areas, which cover about 21 hectares of land.
“They live on unorganized land lots. The land is not developed and the people there live in anarchy,” he maintained.
The commune chief added that there are no imminent plans for evictions in any of the communities.
“They will stay as temporary settlements without land title and with anarchic infrastructure,” Mr Puthy said.
However, according to the notice, residents of T-85 and T-87 have already been notified that the government is offering their land up for sale to property developers.
Prom Sam Khan, deputy Chamkar Mon district governor, said that the communities were excluded from the land title process, “because they are involved in land disputes, or they live on public land, or it is the pagoda’s land.”
Deputy Municipal Governor Mann Chhoeun referred questions yesterday to Municipal Cabinet Chief Nuon Sameth, who said that he was too busy reviewing land title applications to comment on the mass exclusions in Tonle Bassac. Mr Rithysen could not be reached for comment.
In the words of Mr Rithysen’s notice, the Building was excluded because, “people live together on many floors with different families.”
In August, however, the Council of Ministers approved a subdecree that allows for ownership titles to be issued on apartments in multiowner complexes like the Building—a move paving the way for foreign ownership of apartments in Cambodia.
Building residents told reporters yesterday that they had not heard the news that they were ineligible for land titles, though many said they had lived in their apartments for almost 20 years.
Heng Pirun, 40, said she has lived in her ground-floor unit at the Building since 1991, and has the proof of her tenure in a family book. However, she seemed resigned yesterday to the idea that she will eventually be evicted from her home—rumors that the Building will be demolished have circulated since the Dey Krahorm eviction.
“If the authorities move us to another place, they must provide us with an appropriate place in the city, so we can do business,” Ms Pirun said.
Tonle Bassac commune has been the site of several high-profile forced evictions in the recent past. Besides Dey Krahorm, the Group 78, Sambok Chap and Koh Pich communities have all been relocated in the last four years, and the Rek Reay community was forcefully cleared out just one week before the title adjudication process began in Tonle Bassac.
Bunn Rachana, adviser to the Housing Rights Task Force, said yesterday that it was an “unlikely coincidence” that adjudication began only after the final houses in Rek Reay were demolished on Dec 4. “If we’re looking at the situation, it’s an unlikely coincidence that they would start to do the adjudication in Tonle Bassac after the last poor community was cleared out,” she said.
Ms Rachana added that poor communities should not be denied the opportunity to apply for land title, which is their legal right.
“This is not appropriate that they excluded those communities, because looking at the history of their settlements, they’ve been settling there years, and I think they fit the criteria in the Land Law—they are the legal possessors,” she said.
Manfred Hornung, legal advisor for rights group Licadho, said yesterday by telephone that the government is responsible for evaluating possession rights on a case-by-case basis.
“Ownership rights are always individual rights. The wholesale exclusion of entire communities is definitely not in accordance with the law,” he said. “You have to look into the status into each individual family or complainant.”
While he acknowledged that issuing land titles to thousands of families might be tedious, Mr Hornung stressed that the headaches involved are legally unavoidable.
“It is a very cumbersome process if there are many families involved, but this is what is required by the law.”
In September, the government cancelled the World Bank’s participation in the land-titling program, responsible for distributing more than 1 million titles since its inception in 2002.
The World Bank’s internal review of the project found that it had fallen short in issuing land titles to people in poor urban areas, and that some poor communities were unfairly excluded from the adjudication process, which had been funded by the Bank.
Since then, residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake community have filed a complaint with the Bank’s Inspection Panel, alleging that they were not given proper consideration for receiving titles to their homes due to the Bank-funded project.