NGO Finds Spike in New, Settled Land Disputes Last Year

The number of settled and newly reported land disputes more than doubled last year, according to a new report by the NGO Forum, which called the trend a sign the government was making a real—if politically calculated—push to deal with the issue.

Using its network of partner NGOs across the country to identify new cases, as well as monitoring and verifying media reports, the Forum says it found 56 land disputes newly filed with various levels of the government last year, though some of them started earlier. That compares to 23 newly filed cases the Forum found in 2015.

The Forum did not include the number of households involved in the disputes in its report, “Statistical Analysis of Land Disputes in Cambodia,” which it presented on Thursday in Phnom Penh.

Afterward, however, it said the 23 new disputes in 2015 involved 1,549 households contesting 1,904 hectares. The 56 new disputes last year involved 13,724 households contesting 22,337 hectares.

Vong Kosal, who heads the Forum’s land rights security project and helped write the report, attributed the rise in large part to the land management minister’s call for complaints from affected families after taking up his post in March last year.

“We have seen that the cases of [new] land disputes increased in 2016 because after His Excellency Chea Sophara took over at the Land Management Ministry, he called on people to file complaints about old and new cases,” he said.

The Forum also attributed the increase to rising land prices and mounting frustration among aggrieved families reaching a tipping point after several years.

Forum director Tek Vannara said he believed the increase signaled a genuine push by the government to settle the more than 300 land disputes piled up across the country.

“I think the increase in cases is a good sign because the relevant government institutions are concerned about finding solutions for people who have faced land disputes for a long time,” he said.

The new report also says that 58 land disputes were resolved last year, compared to 21 the year before.

But Mr. Vannara suggested the government’s new-found enthusiasm could be politically motivated, noting that the number of new and settled land disputes both peaked in 2012, a year before the national election of 2013.

Spokesmen for the Land Management Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

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