About 70 people from three different communities in Cambodia staged a demonstration in front of Banteay Meanchey provincial hall on Wednesday in an effort to prod the government into action over unsettled land claims.
Residents from the Thma Puok and Ou Chrov districts along with the Poipet Railroad community told RFA’s Khmer Service that local officials have ignored their repeated pleas for compensation for a railway being built in their village.
A representative from Poipet railroad land community in Poipet city’s Phsar Kandal commune, Vorn Voan told RFA’s Khmer Service that they have asked municipal authorities 37 times to provide them with settlements, but all they have gotten is a government runaround.
Provincial authorities have told community representatives they can only launch a new inspection of the places where the protestors are living and compile a report for the ministries to evaluate later.
“Residents are facing difficulties,” Vorn Voan said. “If they are still living on the side of the railroad, when they go out for work, they leave their kids alone.”
He added: “They already face such difficulties now when the train is not yet in operation. What will happen when the train is in operation and railroad is completed?”
The railroad linking Phnom Penh with Poipet city on the Thai-Cambodian border is expected to begin operations soon, but residents say they have not been compensated for the noise and danger caused by the construction.
An uneven application
Sum Chankea, the province’s coordinating officer for the human rights group ADHOC, described the settlements in the area as uneven.
“In some places, they have completely settled the case, but the land has not yet been redistributed to residents,” he said.
During a press conference on Jan. 4, Environment Minister Say Sam Al told reporters that the government had “already cleaned up the issues” related to economic land concessions, but the demonstrations indicate that the problems have yet to be solved.
Economic land concessions (ELCs) have been at the heart of land disputes between the government and its citizens as residents are often forced off their land so that it can be exploited.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has issued concessions to more than 2.1 million hectares of Cambodian land to investors, including major Chinese and Vietnamese companies and local firms with ties to the governing Cambodian People’s Party (C.P.P.), according to a 2015 report by the human rights group LICADHO.
While Hun Sen’s government has been responsible for issuing the land concessions, he has taken some steps to disarm a potent political issue.
In February 2016, Hun Sen announced that the government was taking back about 1 million hectares from investment companies that had been granted the concessions.
At the time he said the land would be doled out to the poor, and the government also reduced the duration of economic land concession investments from 90 years to only 50 years. At the time Hun Sen said the land taken back would be doled out to the poor, but information on the plans has been scarce.
Reported by Hour Hum for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.