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Cambodia : Citizens’ Action against Forceful Land Acquisition

In Cambodia as in many other countries land is an extremely important resource and valued for its rootedness. Today people in rural and urban Cambodia are being systematically alienated from their lands, homes and livelihood. This change is taking place because of demographic and economic pressures but the people are also being dispossessed from their lands by those with political power and money. Cambodia has approximately 10.7 million hectares of tropical forests of various types, which are fast falling victim to chainsaws and bulldozers. It has numerous streams, lakes, wetlands and rivers with a large variety of fishes and other aquatic lives. In Cambodia like in many other developing countries development is becoming increasingly synonymous with private investment. As in many countries in Asia, the dominant development model prioritises integration with regional and global markets, and rapid economic growth regardless of the ecological and social consequences.

This case study focuses on the affected local communities in Ratanakiri Province where locals have not been consulted and have received little or no compensation for the loss of their land. Ratanakiri was selected as the study area as it falls under the category of most affected areas. The other most affected provinces are Kratie, Stung Treng, Kompong Speu, and Kompong Chamg. The north-eastern provinces of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri are predominantly populated by indigenous people, and there are also significant indigenous populations in Kratie and Stung Treng Provinces.

The communities in these areas have come under pressure from land alienation through ‘land grabbing’, and illegal or coercive land sales. This dramatic land grabbing by national and international business corporations has triggered citizens’ movements demanding their rights. In most cases these movements have received support from institutionalised CSOs providing professional and legal expertise when required. Encroachment on agricultural and grazing land, and the resulting loss of livelihoods, is the most commonly-voiced concern by the communities.

The CSOs working in Ratanakiri and other provinces of Cambodia have increased their activities within communities, from awareness building to providing adequate legal help, as demanded by the villagers approaching them for guidance and support. Quite often the stories revealed that the NGOs provide evictees with emergency food and other relief that the government has declined to do.

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Las opiniones y conslusiones expresadas en el siguiente artículo son de exclusiva responsabilidad del autor y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del CETRI.