PM Grants Families Land, Urges End to Vietnamese Leases

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Wednesday that he had ordered authorities to issue titles to 31 families living on state-owned land, a move that encouraged another group living on state land to make a Facebook plea for similar treatment.

The edict followed an August 4 speech in which Mr. Hun Sen, who is currently touring the provinces, ordered authorities to grant titles to families that have long resided on state land that had already been inventoried by the government.

Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech in May. (Khem Sovannara)
Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech in May. (Khem Sovannara)

“Citizens who have been living in the locations listed on the state’s inventory list for many years shall be given legitimate titles,” he said at the time. The land, he said, would then be “removed from the state’s inventory lists so they will get ownership and a chance to build proper houses.”

On Wednesday, the prime minister took to his Facebook page to announce that he had granted the request of a group of families that for the past 30 years have been living on land owned by the Takeo provincial commerce department.

“After a discussion with the governor, Samdech Techo decided to issue a directive cutting this land from the state’s inventory and handing it to brothers and sisters from the 31 families, which will get ownership certificates to live there from now on,” he wrote, referring to himself in the third person. “This is a solution the people have been waiting for many years.”

The decision was finalized during a meeting with Takeo provincial authorities on Tuesday, he said. It remains unclear how much land the families occupy and would receive. Provincial governor Lay Vannak declined to comment on the case.

The announcement prompted a separate group of families living on land belonging to a high school in Koh Kong province to launch an appeal of their own.

“Samdech, when will you come to Koh Kong as children and grandchildren in Sre Ambel [district] are experiencing a lot of suffering,” Por Mengly said in a comment on Mr. Hun Sen’s Facebook page, attaching a scanned petition asking for the prime minister’s intervention in the group’s land dispute.

Mr. Mengly, a teacher at Sre Ambel high school, said by telephone that more than 30 families had been living on the school’s land for between eight and 20 years. Fifteen of the families, including five teachers, were in the group asking for the premier’s help, he said.

“The school directors told us to leave the land many times, but we have lived here for at least a decade or two, so we hope the prime minister will grant us ownership,” he said.

Separately, at the meeting with Takeo officials, Mr. Hun Sen said, he reiterated a past order for authorities to take action to prevent farmers from leasing land to Vietnamese people living across the border.

“It is forbidden to lease land to the people of Vietnam,” he wrote, echoing an order he first handed down in November last year. “This is not only for Takeo province, but for all provinces that share a border with Vietnam.”

Nhean Kdom, a commune councilor in Kandal province’s Sampov Poun commune, said farmers in the area no longer leased land to the Vietnamese after Mr. Hun Sen issued the initial circular banning the practice. “We have informed people to stop renting or leasing farmland to Vietnamese farmers since the government’s directive was released last year, and now there is no Cambodian soil leased to Vietnamese farmers,” he said.

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