Survey: Local Squatters Think Land Is Theirs

Changing land ownership rules have led many Phnom Penh squat­ters to believe they own the land on which their homes are built and that municipal authorities will not evict them, a new survey of squatter families has found.

Last year, the Urban Resource Cen­ter surveyed 1,577 households in 20 squatter communities. The report found that 78 percent of families surveyed believed they own­ed the land they lived on and 82 percent thought they had permission to live there.

“People believe if they have a little book and a letter from a soldier saying they bought the land 20 years ago, they own it,” said Joy Grant, technical adviser for the Urban Resource Center. “That isn’t usually the case.”

While the government and mu­nicipalities have started enforcing the 2001 Land Law as they swap and sell land throughout the country, evicting squatters in large numbers in the process, the ma­jority of those surveyed in Phnom Penh thought they were exempt.

“Seventy-four percent think that the authorities will allow them to stay, while 26 percent be­lieve that they will be moved away,” the re­port states.

Paul Rabe, a consultant who trained the URC staff who conducted the survey, said land occupation has historically been the ac­cepted way to signify ownership in Cambodia.

“There just hasn’t been a clear statement from the authorities” informing people of the change, he said.

“It’s been a possession culture of land,” he said. “The population is very unaware of the Land Law .”

A UN Habitat report obtained ear­lier this month said the municipality’s plans to upgrade infrastructure in 100 communities each year for the next five years would affect 4,771 families in the next two years alone.

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