Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Prime Minister talks tough on land-grabbing issues

By Sue-Lyn Moyle and Aun Pheap
Phnom Penh Post, Issue 16 / 07, April 6 - 19, 2007

In the wake of Prime Minister Hun Sen's declaration of war on land grabbers, Tan Seng Hak, a former advisor to Senate and Cambodian People's Party president Chea Sim, has been arrested over land title fraud.

Mok Chito, director of the Penal Department at the Ministry of Interior, said Hak had been detained in Prey Sar prison after being charged with more than 60 cases of using Sim's name to forge land title documents.

"Seng Hak has tarnished Chea Sim's name," Chito told the Post April 3. "Samdech Chea Sim was not aware of the illegal use of his name."

Hak was arrested March 22 at the Washington Hotel in Prek Leap, in Russei Keo district. The suspected land fraud cases originated from Sangkat Phnom Penh Thmei, Russei Keo district, and include 400 hectares of land owned by Chinese and local companies.

Chito said military police had also arrested Yin Saran, a former chief bodyguard for Chea Sim, and Bun Setha, Seng Hak's uncle, in connection with the case.

Yim Leang, deputy chief of the cabinet of Chea Sim, said Chhoeun Chanthon, also a former chief bodyguard for Chea Sim and the commander of military unit 70, was also under investigation by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in relation to the case.

The arrests come in the wake of Prime Minister Hun Sen's self-declared war on land grabbers. Hun Sen had publicly warned government officials and the rich and powerful that they must stop stealing private and state land. Hun Sen warned that those who violated his order would be expelled from their positions.

Rights groups and NGOs have welcomed the move.

"We would like to support the decision by Prime Minister Hun Sen in his war against land grabbing and would like to offer our support by providing cases to the Secretariat [National Authority for Resolving Land Dispute]," said Adhoc president Thun Saray during a March 28 press conference. "We will follow up their progress and provide further assessment."

Saray said Adhoc would bring five cases to the attention of the authorities, some involving military personnel, and that others would follow depending on the outcome of those initial cases.

Rights groups have echoed Saray's doubts about the court's ability to enforce the law, and have warned that arrests alone were not enough.

"We always welcome the arrests of people who violate the land law and violate the rights of the people," said Kek Galabru, president of a local rights group Licadho. "But what we want to see is real justice. First of all, they must be prosecuted and then they have to give back what they took illegally. The two things are complementary."

Galabru said it was still too early to know if justice for the victims of land grabbing would be served.

"It depends on the political will of the leaders," she said. "If the government would really like to combat this kind of problem, then justice should be implemented for everybody, not just selectively. So we have to wait and see if justice continues to be implemented."

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