News

Evictions Fuel Social Unrest in Cambodia

Violent clashes between poor Cambodians and security forces evicting them from the land they live on have increased fears of widespread unrest over the country's land policy.  Large numbers of displaced people could hurt the country's bid for peaceful development.

Chey Sophat sleeps in a makeshift shelter atop an unused dam in northwestern Cambodia. Ten meters away, the house he lived in for eight years lies in rubble. His family, along with 217 others, lost its land on March 21 when the police enforced a court-ordered eviction.

Five men were shot dead as the villagers - among Cambodia's poorest citizens - used axes, knives, acid and gasoline to try to hold onto their patch of land in Poipet Commune.

The area is being developed as a casino resort for tourists from neighboring Thailand. 

Chey Sophat says the villagers settled on the land years before it became a lucrative development zone, and toiled to clear the landmines left from decades of conflict. They built homes there while working across the border in Thailand or running small businesses, such as selling noodles.

But, despite their hard work, the villagers failed to establish their claim to the land, and the provincial court instead granted the land rights to a village chief with better political connections.

Approximately 15 percent of the country's 13 million people have no land to call their own.  And according to the World Bank, nearly 43 percent of Cambodians live on $1 or less a day, up from 37 percent in 1996.

Many rights advocates worry that the Poipet Commune conflict is a harbinger of the violence that could erupt as more people are displaced.

Thun Saray, president of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, says courts generally rule that Cambodia's poor are trespassers, and many see violence as their only hope.

"If they don't care about this, I think the tension, violence would be increased more and more," he said.  "And also the political [situation] will be unstable also if they lack the social and economic situation like this." 

The Khmer Rouge leaders who came to power in 1975 erased formal property rights. When the brutal regime fell in 1979, the huge numbers of Cambodians returning from work or refugee camps were forced to settle where they could. With their land titles destroyed or lost, it was impossible to respect the earlier claims that usually direct land allocation in post-conflict societies.

Ensuing legislation has added complications. A new act passed in 2001 says that anyone occupying land for at least five years can claim ownership. But this law is often at odds with a 1992 law requiring people to provide a title to prove land rights. Those who settled in the nine years between are often left in limbo.

Song Vannsin, a land expert with the aid agency Oxfam, says the system is ineffective, as anyone with money can buy a land title or influence a judge.

"According to the observation, it seems like one party, the other party who tries to get the land from the poor, they always have the official document. And we don't know what is the legal document," he said.

Cambodia's largely undeveloped countryside and cheap work force make the country inviting to commercial investors. And its recent accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) has forced the country to discuss legislation and reforms to protect foreign and local business interests.

However, according to one Western diplomat, the political will to enforce transparency and strengthen the rule of law is lacking, and the legal risks surrounding land often scare away investment.

About 70 percent of Cambodia's population depends on subsistence farming, but farmland is increasingly being given to businesses. Nearly 15 percent of Cambodia's land has been granted to private companies for forestry, fishing, agricultural plantations and mining.

Earlier this year, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen temporarily froze land concessions, admitting the country must address land distribution problems or face what he called a "peasant revolution." But in March, the government again began doling out land to waiting investors.

International aid donors have blasted the government for granting contracts without full public knowledge and for allowing concessions to far exceed the legal 10,000 hectares. Some aid agencies say the deals also often do little to help the country's finances.

Chea Vannath is director of the Center for Social Development, which analyzes social trends. She says people are increasingly desperate about land issues.

"Before when people are unhappy, they took the gun and they go to the jungle. Now there's no more jungle to hide because of illegal logging," she said.

Ms. Vannath thinks a steady deterioration of living conditions and stability is more likely than a revolt and is concerned about increases in violent crime, robbery, and trafficking of drugs and people.

At the Poipet Commune, Chey Sophat plans to salvage what he can of his burned and bulldozed possessions and then search for food and water. He hopes the government will find land for him and his neighbors, but he wearily predicts that they will face eviction once more.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs