The ministers of land management, agriculture and environment met in Phnom Penh on Monday to discuss the demarcation of state land and plans to manage forest and economic land concessions.
In a joint statement, Environment Minister Say Sam Al, Land Management Minister Im Chhun Lim and Agriculture Minister Uk Rabun said the talks were part of efforts to reform land policy.
The state property demarcation is also aimed at identifying people whom the government considers to be illegally “squatting” on such land, said Land Management Ministry spokesman Beng Hong Socheat Khemro.
“For example, protected forest areas have been encroached by deforesters…. In urban areas, for example, there are state properties like the Boeng Kak area, the Borei Keila area and the railroad area,” he said, referring to areas where the government has conducted mass evictions in the past several years.
Mr. Hong Socheat Khemro said that renewed emphasis of mapping and demarcation was necessary as some “people argue that they don’t regard it as state land.”
“In order to find an appropriate solution for all, those state properties have to be demarcated and mapped,” he said, adding that “most have not been demarcated.”
According to Mr. Hong Socheat Khemro, the ministries will be the final arbiters of what property belongs to the state because they possess the “complete, technical map.”
Pen Bonnar, senior investigator for local rights group Adhoc’s land program, said it was “too late” for the government to demarcate protected areas, because powerful people had already encroached on that land, and he feared only the poor would be targeted by the so-called reforms.
“We have not seen powerful people get penalized in accordance with the law,” Mr. Bonnar said.
“It is an injustice for common villagers who have been imprisoned” for trying to protect land they have the legal right to own, he said.
Boeng Kak resident Song Sreyleap, who along with dozens of other anti-eviction activists has fought against their illegal eviction by the municipal government, said the government always refers to people as “illegal” every time they want to steal their land.
Land is also taken from poor people by the government on the pretext of development, Ms. Sreyleap said, adding that the rich and powerful never suffered a similar fate.
“They always accuse people of living on state land, but powerful people can live on state land,” she said.