Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday urged staff at Cambodia’s courts not to award publicly-owned land to private interests, and accused the director of Phnom Penh Municipal Court of incorrectly awarding 28 hectares of submerged land in the capital to an unnamed private individual.
Speaking at an event in Takeo province to mark the fifth National Fishery Day, Hun Sen said he had recently discussed with Court Director Chiv Keng the matter of land located beneath Boeng Pong Peay lake in Russei Keo district. Hun Sen said he had earlier requested that 157 hectares beneath the lake be registered as state public land to protect fish. But 28 hectares of the submerged land was awarded in a municipal court verdict, he said.
“I told the court director that his verdict abused government’s powers,” Hun Sen said.
The 2001 Land Law prohibits the sale of “state public” property defined as land intended for general use by the public, including lakes.
Hun Sen said the court was resolving land disputes by awarding what was in fact state public land to parties in court.
“The court rules in favor of someone. Even though one wins and another loses, they take state public land. Please be careful,” he said.
Chiv Keng could not be reached for comment. But court Deputy Director Ke Sakhorn said that, following Hun Sen’s intervention, he had himself ordered last week that the land in question be returned to the government.
The case in which Chiv Keng ruled last month was brought by one government adviser against another, Ke Sakhorn said, adding that he could not recall their names.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that Hun Sen’s public issuance of orders to the judiciary compromised the appearance of judicial independence. “The court must be independent,” he said.
Ke Sakhorn denied that the court was susceptible to executive pressure.
“Samdech’s [Hun Sen’s] comments cannot influence the court,” he said.