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Dozens of Cambodians charged in land dispute

Cambodia's land records were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge regime and after its fall people often settled without legal title
Workers plowing with tractor at the site of an economic land concession (ELCs) outside Praeus K'ak village in Preah Vihear province.

Workers plowing with tractor at the site of an economic land concession (ELCs) outside Praeus K'ak village in Preah Vihear province. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 14, 2024 05:41 AM GMT
Updated: March 14, 2024 06:44 AM GMT

A Cambodian court has charged 29 people with illegally occupying state land following an incident in which authorities fired live rounds in a crackdown on a longstanding land dispute, a rights activist said on March 13.

The villagers were arrested last week when police, gendarmes and forestry officials moved to evict people from the land in northwestern Preah Vihear province, Am Sam Ath, operations director of rights group Licadho, told AFP.

The 29 people, including 12 women, were charged by a court with clearing forest land and enclosing it to claim ownership, he said.

Twenty-five were sent to pre-trial detention while four were released on bail. They face between one and five years in jail if found guilty.

Court and local officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

"Land disputes remain an issue of concern," Am Sam Ath said, urging the government to speed up the process of resolving the conflicts.

The plot of land where the incident took place was granted to a private company for economic land concessions (ELC) in 2011, according to Licadho.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by ELCs -- land grants to businesses that experts say have driven deforestation and dispossession.

Cambodia formalized ELCs in 2001 with legislation allowing recipients to clear land for "industrial agricultural exploitation".

Due to growing land conflicts and facing the risk of a "farmers' revolution," Hun Sen, prime minister at the time, announced the ELC moratorium in 2012.

In a separate incident, 250 police officers were deployed to crack down on locals illegally clearing forests to assert land ownership in the Cardamom Mountains in Pursat province, according to the provincial administration.

Cambodia's land records were largely destroyed by the communist Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s and after its fall people often settled without legal title.

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