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Cambodian Land Concessions Deepen Poverty, Report Says

FILE - Cambodian farmers drag a tarp loaded with bundled rice to dry it during the harvesting season in Svay Chek village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Cambodian land concessions granted to companies last year affected nearly 80,000 people, displacing many of them and increasing poverty, the NGO Forum on Cambodia says in a new report.

According to the "Statistical Analysis of Land Disputes," issued Tuesday, researchers examined records for all of 2014 and found land concessions accounted for a third of all clashes. Phnom Penh had the highest number, followed by eastern Ratanakkiri province.

The researchers say the land concessions have led to increased poverty for local residents.

A typical story comes from Yong Rann, who was embroiled in an economic dispute in 2010. "Since the company came to grab our land, we cannot farm on our land. I beg them to stopping bulldozing my farm," she said.

Tek Vannara, Forum’s executive director, said the government must provide more support to residents caught up in land disputes so they, too, can benefit from development.

“Working together [among] NGOs, government agencies and especially with the community of land victims is the most effective mechanism to successfully find solution to land disputes, to find justice so that people get benefit from development," he said.

Cambodia’s Land Management ministry intends to resolve problems by issuing land titles to people, said E Bunthoeun, vice president of a government committee on land disputes.

"So far, the ministry has given land titles to people totaling over 2 million hectares," Bunthoeun said. "We consulted with people personally. Instructed by government leadership, while giving land titles, we also help solve land disputes."

Meanwhile, the government is reviewing its land concession policy, reducing the lease period from 99 years to 50 for some projects.

Still, many villagers remain displaced, out of work or otherwise affected by ongoing land disputes. The conflicts have emerged as a major policy problem for Cambodia and its 15 million residents over the past decade.

(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.)