PM Threatens Land Grabbers, NGOs Doubtful

In yet another strongly-worded warning to high-ranking officials and business leaders, Prime Min­ister Hun Sen said those responsible for encroaching on and grabbing forested land could face legal action if they do not abandon their claims.

“The powerful and well-off have to give it up and hand back forested land to the government for the public interest,” he said Saturday at the Agriculture Ministry’s an­nual conference.

He also urged provincial governors to disassociate themselves from land grabbing and take stronger action against those re­sponsible rather than wait for officials from the ministries of agriculture and environment to do so.

“Please don’t get your hands involved,” he said, adding that any government official implicated in grabbing forested land will be sacked and sent to court for prosecution.

Provincial and municipal land management departments must also refrain from issuing land ti­tles for disputed forest land, Hun Sen said.

Battambang Governor Prach Chan said he has taken action against illegal land grabbing and encroachment but felt Hun Sen’s message would help.

“Samdech’s message is to threaten those guys,” he said Sunday. “I think they will be afraid.”

However, Mike Davis of forestry watchdog Global Wit­ness was skeptical Hun Sen’s message would dissuade illegal land grabs.

“We’ve heard many such statements like this before,” he said. “But what we need is action.”

Davis said it was “wishful thinking” to believe anyone would willingly give up land they have acquired, given the short to non-existent list of prosecutions that have followed similar statements Hun Sen has made before.

The premier’s warning follows a string of impassioned vows for reform that have brought about limited effect, most notably his “Iron Fist” clamp down on court corruption.

On March 3, Hun Sen declared an “emergency campaign” of judicial reform, vowing the re-arrest hundreds of armed robbers who bribed their way out of jail and to arrest corrupt judges and prosecutors.

By late last month, however, Hun Sen’s much-criticized “Iron Fist” approach appeared to have stalled as two Phnom Penh Municipal Court judges accused earlier for allegedly taking bribes, were still on the job.

The two judges and two deputy prosecutors also implicated in the clampdown have not been charged while court monitors say little has changed in the way of reforming the court system.

Similar threats Hun Sen has made against authorities to curb smuggling and illegal logging have also been met with limited success or action.

Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Hun Sen’s management style could be part of the reason the prime minister’s speeches have not been matched with strong action.

When Hun Sen makes such statements, he often does not have a plan to implement them and does not communicate his vision to those under him, Koul Panha said.

“He just says thing, but so far there is no effective mechanism to solve the problems,” he said Sunday. “The leader should not just say, but organize his subordinates.”

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, agreed with Davis that without the real threat of prosecution, those in power do not heed the prime minister’s warnings.

“Since there is no enforcement of the law, whatever he said, the rich do not take it personally,” she said. “It seems to a certain extent they enforce the law on a certain group of people, but they cannot go beyond the line.”


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