Cambodian Land Conflicts Surge

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Cambodian Land Conflicts Surge

A persistent problem for Cambodia may be getting a lot worse.

The number of Cambodian families newly affected by land conflicts has tripled in a year, a local NGO said earlier this week.

In a statement released Thursday, The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho) said that it had registered 10,625 families newly affected by land conflicts in 2014, which was more than three times the number of families documented in 2013.

Land disputes have long been a major problem in Cambodia. Last year, Licadho released data showing that Cambodia had reached what it termed a “shameful milestone,” with land conflicts affecting more than half a million people since 2000.

“It’s unfortunate that the Cambodian government is making the same promises again and again over land disputes,” Licadho director Naly Pilorge said. “The authorities need to address the problem immediately with long-term lasting solutions.”

As it has done in the past, the Cambodian government has responded by either rubbishing Licadho’s figures outright or suggesting that they are exaggerated.

According to The Phnom Penh Post, government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed Licadho’s data as “fabricated,” suggesting that they had a “hidden agenda…to get more funds.”

Sao Sopheap, the spokesman for the country’s environment ministry, The Post reported, was a little less dramatic, rejecting the group’s figures but acknowledging that the number of land conflicts did increase in 2014 and that the government was doing its best to address the issue.

“The reality is that our ministries and institutions are working on the government’s policy to solve all land conflicts,” he said.

On Friday, Cambodia’s Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction said in response to the report that it had received only 6,556 complaints on land disputes from 2002 to 2014, and that the number of complaints went down to 990 in 2013 and dropped further to 750 in 2014.

“Since 2002, land disputes have declined from one year to another – it is completely contrary to a local NGO Licadho’s report,” the statement reportedly read.

In its statement, Licadho described the Cambodian government’s previous denials as “shameful,” adding that there has been “no sign” so far that the country’s record in 2015 will be any better.

“The root causes of land conflicts have been well-documented: a corrupt and politically-obedient judicial system, the misuse of armed forces, including soldiers, as well as collusion between well-connected companies and authorities. This toxic cocktail has been fueling conflicts throughout the country for too long,” said Licadho’s technical coordinator Am Sam Ath.