PM Intensifies Land Grab War; Opposition Skeptical

Prime Minister Hun Sen has issued a directive detailing how the government is to deal with recovering state property from land grabbers.

The eight-page directive, which is dated Feb 26 and was obtained Wednesday, states that the government has been lax in its duty to register state assets, thereby making it difficult to control the theft of state property.

“The government has not im­plemented the 2001 Land Law ful­ly yet, including creating social land concessions for the poor and vulnerable,” the prime minister’s directive reads. “In the meantime, the opportunists, land speculators and the powerful have encroach­ed on the land illegally.”

The directive lays out a number of scenarios in which provincial authorities are required to confiscate land from suspected land grabbers. It also gives a ba­sic rundown of the procedures the authorities are supposed to use to recover state land.

According to the directive, the authorities must notify anybody suspected of taking state property that the government intends to confiscate it. The holders of the land then have 30 days to re­spond to the state’s challenge to their ownership.

If the landholders do not re­spond, the property will be au­tomatically confiscated, but if they refuse to give up the land, the courts must decide the issue.

Hun Sen’s directive also states that poor people who are remov­ed from state land will not receive compensation, but the government can give them a plot of land of “appropriate size in order to improve their living standards.” The state, however, is not legally required to do so.

Siem Reap Provincial Governor Sou Phirin said that he was al­ready putting Hun Sen’s directive into practice—having confiscated around 35,000 hectares of state land back from land grabbers.

“We will give the [confiscated] land to the real poor people,” he added, saying that he will request that the prime minister turn it into a social land concession.

SRP leader Sam Rainsy said Wed­nesday that he does not believe anything will come of Hun Sen’s directive or his proclaimed “war on land grabbers.”

The prime minister has in the past stated that he would put an end to illegal logging and corruption but both continue unabated, Sam Rainsy said.

The focus of a campaign to stop land grabbing should not focus on recovering state land but on addressing the needs of villagers displaced by avaricious land speculators, he said.

“What is most important is to ensure that people are not ex­pelled from their land and their homes, and to return people who have had their homes taken back to their land,” Sam Rainsy said.

He also claimed that the list of state-owned properties has been intentionally mismanaged over the last decade because it makes it much easier for government land to be sold off.

He cited the recent sales and swaps of a number of state-owned buildings in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap province as examples of opaque government property deals.

“A lot of public buildings have been sold, from court houses to police stations,” he said.

CPP lawmaker Nguon Nhel said that the directive would definitely prove an effective means of recovering state land because of the power the CPP has given Hun Sen to fire party officials involved in land grabbing.

Nguon Nhel added that the government needed to swap some centrally located government properties for more remote locations because the old locations were either too small or caused traffic problems.


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