12th July 2012
The Cambodia Daily reports that police in Strung Treng Province have arrested an official from the Council of Ministers and her husband who challenged the authority of student volunteers that were engaged the highly publicised land-titling programme instigated by the Prime Minister.
The woman, Meas Sokhon, who works in the Council of Ministers’ legal affairs office, had apparently been one of several people who illegally cleared government forested land along National Road 7 in the middle of last decade. Unfortunately for her, the authorities reclaimed this land in 2007.
When she heard that the volunteers were in the area, however, she gathered a group of acquaintances to try and get them to register the land in her name, according to the Daily. When the students refused to play along, she then questioned their authority, in effect challenging the PM’s reform plan, and remarkably, was promptly arrested.
It follows a similar case last week, when a commune police chief and his deputy were suspended in Ratanakiri Province for allegedly demanding money from local villagers wanting to be included in the land-titling programme.
This would seem to be further evidence that the PM’s authority is not monolithic throughout the wilder parts of the country, where the government’s writ is frequently ignored – unless the PM himself makes an issue of it. Then anyone who is publicly seen to challenge his authority can expect to be made an example of, presuming there are themselves not close to one of the other competing loci of power in the government and is able to stand their ground.
The student volunteers have been deployed to measure land as part of an ambition land-titling programme announced by the PM and intended to reach all villagers living inside land concessions and state forests within the next six months.
Back in early May, the Prime Minister had announced a moratorium on issuing new leases for economic land concessions, following an outcry earlier this year, saying the government would take back land from any firms that breach their lease by “cutting trees to sell, without developing the economic land concessions… and grabbing villagers’ or community land”.
The 734 students are meant to spend the next two months measuring approximately 350,000 hectares of land occupied by around 100,000 rural families in eight provinces. Dressed in military uniforms and divided into 61 groups, they will fan out to assist 486 local land and cadastral officials from the Land Management Ministry as well as 281 provincial officials. Once finalised, the data will be sent to the PM for approval to privatise the state land where the villagers live and issue them legal titles.