Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Government Plans to Draft Law Allowing Foreigners to Have the Right to Own Khmer Land

Posted on 14 February 2008.

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 547

“An official from the Council of Ministers recently said that a new draft law allowing foreigners to own Khmer land will be sent to the National Assembly to be deliberated and adopted in the near future.

“The draft law, which is known to have been initiated to satisfy the goal of wealthy foreigners, especially Chinese and Yuon [Vietnamese], is receiving strong reactions from civil society and from Khmer people.

“Ms. Pung Chhiv Kek [Dr. Kek Galabru], president of the local human rights organization Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, said that nowadays, land issues in Cambodia are moving towards a crisis; if the law permits foreigners to own Khmer land, it would cause a situation of double deprivation.

“Based on the Cambodian constitution, foreigner shall not have the right to own a house or a building, and they shall not have the right to own a plot of land in Cambodia, this right is only for those who hold Khmer citizenship. If the new draft law is adopted, it would be a surprise and very terrifying for the future of Cambodia. Parts of Cambodian land would be lost to foreigners for money.

“The director of an organization working on legal issues based in Cambodia, the Cambodian National Research Organization, said that if this new law is promulgated, it will seriously affect Cambodia’s sovereignty.

“It is to be noted that currently there are some companies owned by foreigners who have been given the right by the government to own several thousand hectares of land through what is called land or forest concessions. Some of these contracts have a validity of up to 90 years. This means that they are land owners for one or two generations. Examples are the granting of land to a Yuon [Vietnamese] company to plant rubber trees in Ratanakiri on more than 100,000 hectares of land, and authorizing a forest concession to a Yuon company in Kompong Thom.

“These actions give those foreign companies the opportunity to destroy natural forests and to use the lands granted by the state in an anarchical way.

“It is remembered that during the 1970s, through the leasing of the Snuol rubber plantation in Kratie to a Yuon company, it had been used as a military base to fight the government. But now, it is believed that such leasings provide a good opportunity for the neighboring foreigners to invade Khmer lands.

“Referring to the people in Ratanakiri, today there are many Yuon rubber plantations that have been in operation in this province, employing their own [Vietnamese] workers. This became dangerous for Khmers, because after the Hun Sen government had seized the forests where Khmer people were doing their business, and granting it to foreign companies with the argument that those foreign companies would provide jobs to Khmer people - but finally it is nothing, and the jobs are only for their own [foreign] labor. This is becoming a serious tragedy for Khmer people and for the country.

“Relating to this case, according to a government official, Khmer major companies are just a tool of foreign businesspeople; they establish close relations with Hun Sen government officials to connect the lines to get commission from foreigners. The foreigners are not afraid to spend their money to buy a country. This is a big factor, pushing to have a draft law, allowing foreigners to own land in Cambodia.

“Such trends that led to this kind of criticism, seems to be sensitive since last year, and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself announced in a public forum that his government would not sell the state’s sovereignty and its decision rights. But some observers noted that Hun Sen seems not to know what state power sovereignty is. Until now the state’s mechanisms seem to be led by private businesspeople, while Prime Minister Hun Sen is just a tool.”

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.2, #108, 13.2.2008

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