City Governor Vows to Speed Up Dispute Resolution

Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong, who has overseen the violent suppression of protests in the city over the past year and whose security forces have arrested more than a dozen activists and monks this month, presented a much friendlier stance Thursday at the National Assembly.

Before entering a meeting called by the parliamentary human rights commission, headed by CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, Mr. Socheatvong told reporters that there was “nothing strange” about his being called for questioning.

Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong leads a delegation of municipal officials into a meeting with members of the National Assembly's human rights commission at the Assembly building Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong leads a delegation of municipal officials into a meeting with members of the National Assembly’s human rights commission at the Assembly building Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“It is simply part of democracy at work, which in the past we never had,” he said.

Following the three-hour closed-door meeting, Mr. Socheatvong said the lawmakers had asked him about ongoing land disputes in the city and the arrests of protesters—including 10 land-rights activists—in Phnom Penh this month.

“We have done very well in resolving land disputes, but we also admitted that there are many cases that cannot be resolved through administrative mechanisms…and have to be sent to the court,” Mr. Socheatvong said.

The governor promised to work toward bringing a swift end to disputes over land in the Boeng Kak, Borei Keila and Thma Kohl neighborhoods, as well as on the Chroy Changva peninsula and around Boeng Trabek lake.

“We will make efforts to speed up all this work,” he said. “What remains are small [disputes].”

In response to a request from the human rights commission to resolve land disputes through transparent negotiations rather than force, Mr. Socheatvong agreed that peaceful solutions were preferable.

“We don’t want to end them by using violence, so if [residents] want to end the issue, we can end it this evening, but only if we take on the spirit of negotiating,” he said.

Mr. Chhay Eang said his commission had provided an action plan for resolving land disputes to City Hall, and would be monitoring the municipal government’s progress in implementing it.

“Our commission has asked the Phnom Penh authorities to end every problem through negotiations, and not to use administrative action to evict people, and speed up resolving cases such as Borei Keila and Boeng Kak,” he said.

“We asked Phnom Penh City Hall to withdraw its complaints against those protesters,” he added, referring to seven Boeng Kak women who were arrested while protesting flooding in their neighborhood by blocking the road in front of City Hall with a bed.

“And in response, the Phnom Penh municipality said they will review this case.”

At about 5 p.m., Mr. Chhay Eang exited the Assembly compound to address some 100 protesters who had gathered outside. The lawmaker was met by cheers when he announced that Mr. Socheatvong had promised to speed up his work in bringing an end to long-running feuds over land.

However, An Samnang, 55, a protester from the Borei Keila neighborhood, said she was not holding her breath.

“I have no hope that Phnom Penh City Hall will hurry up and resolve all these issues because they have cheated us many times before,” she said.

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