This Is War, Hun Sen Tells Land-Grabbers

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday declared “war” on land grabbers, and threatened to fire an unidentified three-star RCAF general if he does not return state land to the government before the week is out.

Hun Sen said he will target CPP officials in particular for en­croaching on state land, and warned that if he does not receive cooperation in his campaign, there could be “bloodshed.”

“The war against land grabbers is being started,” he announced during a speech at an environmental conference in Phnom Penh that was broadcast on Apsara Radio.

“I want to work with high-level consent [from CPP officials] to attack any CPP officials who en­croach on state land,” he said.

Hun Sen’s fighting talk came two days after the CPP Central Com­mittee authorized him to fire land grabbers within the CPP without first consulting his party colleagues.

It also came less than a month before April’s commune elections, and one political observer said that while the campaign will help rally the electorate, it may be difficult to enforce because high-ranking land grabbers wield such power.

Hun Sen has previously declared short-lived battles on other fronts: such as his 2004 war on corruption and famously his 2005 “iron first” campaign against corruption in the judiciary.

On Monday, Hun Sen said he had told Defense Minister Tea Banh to handle the case of a three-star general who has been grabbing state land.

“I do not want to have bloodshed, but in the case that [land grabbers] are stubborn, there must be bloodshed,” he said.

RCAF commanders are often in­volved in land grabbing, Hun Sen said, adding that they will no longer be able to command troops if he fires them. Armed resistance against the campaign would prove futile, he warned.

“If you want to use soldiers against the government, you would live a short life—with Hun Sen it is definite,” he said.

Tea Banh and Ke Kim Yan, RCAF commander-in-chief, could not be reached for comment.

Hun Sen did not mention whe­ther he would also discipline officials for grabbing land from the public.

Many rights workers and Hun Sen himself have previously warn­ed that widespread land grabbing from villagers poses a serious risk to Cambodia’s stability.

Koul Panha, director of the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections, said Monday that Hun Sen should make this his focus.

“Land disputes involving villagers should be the first priority to be solved,” he said.

Hun Sen said the CPP will start by removing a small number of CPP officials for grabbing state land to set an example.

But he said that any party officials illegally occupying state land must hand it back before the end of the week if they want to keep their jobs.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kan­harith said the government will not name any official who is about to be removed for illegal land grabbing.

“We must maintain their dignity,” he said.

`            “If their names are revealed, their children will have difficulty when going to school,” he added.

SRP leader Sam Rainsy said that Hun Sen’s speech was aimed more at luring voters than addressing Cambodia’s endemic land grabbing and he called on the government to declare their assets and name officials accused of stealing land.

“If it is not transparent, no one will have confidence in the measure,” he said.

Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia, also said the campaign will likely at­tract voters come the commune elections April 1.

But, he said, “it will likely face difficulty because land grabbers are powerful.”

Yeng Virak, director of the Com­munity Legal Education Center, an NGO working on land rights, welcomed Hun Sen’s speech but added that action was needed more than words.

“We want to see promises be­come real,” he said.

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