Two Different Jobs in Two Different Environments

I am so happy to travel according to my schedule to the province of Preah Vihear to hand out the land titles to people here after the conclusion of the ASEAN, EAS and related Summits. Though tired but we were happy. If I were to compare the jobs that our officials and the youth volunteers have been doing here, what I did in Phnom Penh for the summits were not so difficult compared to yours. You all stayed working under rain, hot weather and strong wind. We were in two different working environments. There were so many topics to discuss and it was not easy to carry out the task when we had the participations of so many heads of states and governments of the member countries of ASEAN and other leaders of partnering countries. However, I conducted the summits in air-conditioned rooms.

Today I am so happy that we meet and present the land titles to 570 families in the pagoda in the village of Sra Mao of Pal Hal commune, the province of Preah Vihear’s Preah Vihear city. Let me remind you that the land titles that we are presenting today are the results of the works done by the youth volunteers group of 72. As you know this is not the first time that I am handing out the land titles to our people. I was so busy but I did not want our people to wait for too long to get their land titles. So I sent General Meas Sophea to hand out 861 land parcel titles on my behalf for 591 families in three different places – Sra Yang and Tbeng Pi commune in the district of Kulen and Rum Tum commune in the district of Rovieng. This is my fourth time to do so myself.

This has indeed illustrated our focal and joint efforts in our endeavor to fulfill altogether in implementing the rejuvenating action based on existing policy on issue of land ownership. The effort would unleash land titles and ownerships for not less than 40,000 families on about two million hectares. However, the number of land parcels could exceed the number of families. For instance, there are 45,000 families but they own between 70,000 to 80,000 land parcels.

Just now, meeting with a sister in the Buddhist temple, I asked if she has any land title to collect. She told me she already had her husband and children waiting to collect the title already. I asked how much land the family has. She said about 30 hectares, of which five hectares she and her husband keep for themselves and the rest will bequeath to their children. I think it is a good thing and I have no objection to that. It is a wise decision to bequeath the land to them now so that they can file for their land titles (as the Royal Government) is doing that free of charge.

A Job Not to Retract

We will continue to do this job. As I said, we would not retreat if we have not finished doing it. This is the basic right for our people to own land. Human rights are not only the right to speak alone. The first and foremost basic right is the right to life as without life no one could talk of any other rights. The killing by bombardment and in Pol Pot’s genocide for instance has taken all rights of human. What rights could one talk about when there is no life at all? Is it not basic to start talking about the right to life after the liberation of January 7? Human rights start with right to life, access to food, to education, healthcare, etc. How could anyone define any dimension of these accesses as rights?

What is the rights situation that we have these days? As of today, there are no less than 45,000 families whose rights to own land (the Royal Government) will be guarantee. Is this not the right? Having said that, please do not mistake my point that I am to respond to so and so. Different countries would have different sets of problems and different ways to deal with them. Some might resolve whatever issue comes first, whatever right matters, but we are resolving the whole problems and related issues altogether, every right I mean.

Take for instance, the rights that we are offering our people today will last not a few days but for generations to come. I mean the right to own the land will be passing from generation to generation. The woman I mentioned earlier said she is here and her children are here to receive land titles altogether. In 18 years or so, her children will give those lands on to their children.

Do you recall that in 1979 we had only five million people left? Thirty-three years on, we have 14 million people, adding another nine million. It is an exponential increase. I would not blame anyone for that. I have one child every year. There was no birth control measure those days. Later there was, and if there were not I would have 15 children perhaps. Facing with the population boom, we also have this demand for land to resolve too after 1979. The state in those days offered people with some stipend and foodstuffs so that people could claim land. Sometimes they went and stayed as long as they finished those supplies and returned. After the war ended, our people have greater demand for land. I met here people coming all the way from Kompong Cham province’s Jomkar Loeu district to buy land here. They do not look like the people in Preah Vihear.

Land Reform – A Priority in CPP and Royal Government’s Political Platform

Land ownership is a priority issue in the political platform of the Cambodian People’s Party as well as of the Royal Government of Cambodia that we have to carry on solving the titles for the people. Aside from the land that we have reserved to give the people, we have kept land for the social concession too. I told HE Im Chhun Lim, Senior Minister and Minister for Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, and HE Um Mara, Governor of Preah Vihear province to keep the land for that purpose. Looking at the map, we noticed that there remain some lands in the region. We have to protect the land. We keep it for more people who would need land later.

We have kept certain area as community forestland already but we also must protect certain area for later demand when we have another population growth. I demand that our people who already have their land titles not to encroach upon further land but to make use of their land potentially. I am so grateful for the understanding and cooperation that our people have and provide to the efforts made by the Royal Government as this would not be in individual but the people’s own interests. According to the report by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction as well as that of HE Um Mara, the whole land area concerned has a total figure of over 130,000 hectares in 198 over 229 villages, 49 over 51 communes and in 8 different districts.

The campaign (to measure land and register land parcel) has now deployed in all seven districts and a city (of Preah Vihear province). There are some 37,697 families involved in this land measuring and titling efforts. Among them, 7,874 families have had 771 hectares land problems with the economic land concession or about 18%; 7,500 families have had 8,983 hectares land problems with the forestland concession or 30% and 22,323 families have had 68,629 hectares land problems, or 52%, with other sort of state lands.

130,000 Hectares to Measure in Preah Vihear

This has indicated that the people who have had land problems so far are more involved with other types of state land rather than the economic land or forestland concessions. However, no matter what sort of land it would be, the land measuring and titling campaign would try to resolve the issue with regard to how the problem has arisen. With transference of land status from state to companies, still, we have secured to keep areas relating to the people’s occupation and possession as detailed in the notification (SJN) letter. Take for instance, the land to measure and issue titles in the category of economic land concession is roughly equal to 18% of the over 130,000 hectares.

Having achieved this, we have secured safety for those who occupied and possessed the land on the one hand, and those investors who obtain the investment agreement on the other. This should be complementary action between industry, medium-scale and large-scale agricultural activities of our people. I strongly hope that this land area of over 130,000 hectares would be under rubber cultivation and some of them already have.

You may agree with me that the issue of land title is not a simple one. In the old days, not many people have had their land titles. Under Pol Pot regime, no one had land ownership of any sort. After the liberation, everyone worked on any land parcel that s/he might have his/her hands on. People did not even build new or bigger home at all because they feared that the state would confiscate the houses from them anytime they could not know of. I said on various occasions that the safety elements involved in printing these land titles are comparably strong and secure as those for the Riel note.

Land with Political Intrigues – Not a Priority

I am so grateful that our people have participated and kindly supported this non-retracted and large-scale land measuring and titling efforts of the Royal Government. With the presentation of land titles this time on the total land area of almost two million hectares, we have also reserved more land areas for the social land concession program. There had been two issues with regard to land ownership in the province of Preah Vihear. First, there was a land concession problem reserved for the military division 41. While we finished resolving the issue, there was a second land issue with a group of people, led by a non-governmental organization, collected thumbprints and used them for protest in Phnom Penh.

It is in this regard that I deem it is necessary to send a message from here to everyone that as long as those land issues are fraught with the involvement of non-governmental organization or political parties, I would not take them for priority. The reason is simple. Once the land issue is involved with political motives, there is no way that we can resolve them. My message is clear that if anyone expected me to resolve the land issue for them they should refrain from involving non-governmental or political organizations in their demand for land.

I reaffirm my position through this message that the Royal Government will help you complete your land measuring titling process as long as those lands in demand are not politically intrigued or related. I already instructed those youth volunteers from the start that they should not ask the people who demand for their land measuring and titling about the political party they belong. I forbid them to probe but treat them all as Cambodians. I made them understand clearly that political right is a different matter here. Take for instance some among those of you who have come here today to receive your land titles may not have voted for the Cambodian People’s Party. That is, let me confirm, not the subject I am after.

In our endeavor to resolve the land issue, I expect no political motivation and involvement, from all political sides, the Cambodian People’s Party also included. If that happens in line of the Cambodian People’s Party, I would not hesitate to take reprimanding measures. It is easy to do even if it involves removing someone from his/her ranks. It would take only two days to get it done. Take for instance the General Doen Sovan. He is no longer a three star general now. He only waits for his day in court. Doen Sovan is the Cambodian People’s Party member and a three star general but he has committed mistake. We cannot overlook it. We have to take legal measure.

Some has made use of other people’s thumbprints for protest. However, how could one be sure about thumbprints? What if the forensic survey determines they are from just a few people, what kind of crime would those people find themselves in? Is it not a crime of falsifying the public documents? When the court finds them guilty, they then seek for intervention. Let me stress here that in Cambodia there is no such thing as political prisoners but only prisoners who are in jail for the crimes s/he committed. When that situation comes, some seeks my help while accusing me of controlling the court.

If I were to intervene, as they demanded, I would be nothing different from what they have said. How could they accuse me of controlling the court while asking me for an intervention? The court is independent. No one should be above the law. So let me confirm that there is no political prisoner in Cambodia. We have politicians whom the court find guilty from the crimes they committed. Look, how many government officials whom the court find guilty. Several chiefs of military and/or police have been arrested for crimes in relation to drug and abuse of power. How could the Royal Government intervene in this?

There was this case of some organizations filing for land concession from the Royal Government. There are organizations in Kompot and/or Kompong Speu provinces that request for land, but after acquiring them, sell them to other parties. I urge that we no longer approve request for land anymore. We will still approve request for land to build hospital or orphanage, etc, though. Maybe you could remember of an organization that offered to build a highway of 70 kilometers all the way to the Bokor Mountain Resort. I doubted their financial capacity as enlarging the National Roads 6A and 5 to four lanes would consume millions of USD already.

No Way-out for Politically Intrigued Issues

In time of the 2011 flooding, we were so busy. We went to all corners of the country to hand out relief kits. There were people who had money to pay taxi to go demanding for relief. They surrounded and protested at the Cambodian Red Cross Headquarter. I told the President of the Cambodian Red Cross these people were not sincere. As the true victims, in my opinion, they would not have the chance to come to protest for relief but to stay look after their animals, rice fields and farms. Those who came were the one that the political party leaders motivated only. Failing to get the attention at the fence of the Royal Palace, those people, HE Chea Sophara – as Governor of Phnom Penh then may remember – later went to the party headquarter.

There was then a foreign embassy that called to HE Chea Sophara to help find transportations for those people to go back home. Some claimed they were from Banteay Meanjei, Svay Rieng or Takeo but they stopped the bus and got off at Chbar Ampeo (eastern part of Phnom Penh). This is why I said when there is political intrigue there is no way that we could solve the problem. I do not want to send any political message at all but it is important to affirm why political involvement would mess up our actions to resolve the issue.

Cambodia in Hell and in Truth

As of the moment, I do not seem to notice newspapers that run the news about the fact that the Royal Government has issued the sub-decree to cut land out for the people. This has me doubted. For that instance, when I agreed to approve land concession as a completion of the procedure according to the Royal Order 01, some newspapers had run their articles repeatedly until the Cabinet of the Prime Minister issued a clarification and reaction. They accused Hun Sen of giving out more land in concession irrespective of the proclamation of the Royal Order 01. It was a vulgar distortion. Now I am waiting to see if the same newspaper is running any news about the sub-degrees and dozens of decisions on this issue.

They do not publish this in their newspapers but misled the public that Hun Sen has given more land in concession in violation of own order. Whatever the Royal Government has been doing is not a subject for those newspapers to run. That is our weak point. The more we do the less we talk about it. They are better. They do less but they talk a lot. Some told us frankly, you have done a great deal but you talk too little about it. Outside, news about Cambodia is so dark. Many foreigners even confirm that being in Cambodia it is so different. I responded that it is true that there are two Cambodias – one Cambodia outsiders see in the news and another is the true Cambodia that you have seen with your own eyes.

The Cambodia that you see on papers or through the news is hell and the true one that you see with your own eyes is the one that people travel wherever they wish to, speak whatever they want to, and there is no such thing as obstruction of rights to travel at all. Please do not take this as my political preach. I am just telling you the truth. As I said, I am waiting to see the same newspaper to run articles or news about the same land issue and how much land the Royal Government has given out to the people? I am looking for what they talk about neutrality to see if they do it or not. I am longing to see what they claim about principle of neutrality in press professionalism. We also have to go on with our way of reaching the people by our media too.

Family-like Manner – A Great Source of Inspiration

I am so grateful for all the efforts made in the province of Preah Vihear. We have eight youth volunteer teams here working side by side with eight cadastre teams. I thank the provincial authority as well as the district and communal authorities and people for their collaborative efforts together with the armed forces in looking after and taking care of the cadastre officials and youth volunteers in the course of fulfilling this land measuring and titling mission for the people. It is the fact that without their contributive parts, the youth volunteers and cadastre officials would not be able to perform this task in an orderly manner. We all must admit the truth. I also thank leaders of the Royal Government, although with busy schedule, for the visit and bringing with them some food and utensil supply to the young heroic student volunteers and cadastre officials.

That is a great source of inspiration. Our youth volunteers are living away from home, parents and siblings but they certainly find our people in the villages as their relatives too. I also noted some of the active moments of the youth volunteers from various mission target areas on the Kolbotkhmer website. That arouses me and makes me want to get back to my younger age. I am quite delighted though because from the photos and VDOs, I see that there is communication between the young heroic student volunteers and their families.

Serving the People, More Schedules

It is indeed a great effort that our youth volunteers and cadastre officials have been working together under the leadership of the provincial and district authorities. This job we are doing for our people. If it were not for the people, we would not be coming here. We are not here to demand for a piece of land at all. We truly serve the people. Since I did not have time to speak to all the youth volunteers in the past days, whatever I am talking about the youth volunteers here also is for all of them throughout the country.

As far as my schedule to hand out the land titles is concerned, I still have to go on November 30 to Kompong Thom province, December 2 to Kompong Som (Preah Sihanouk) procince, December 4 to Uddar Meanjei province, December 7 to Ratanakiri, December 11 to the Kep province, December 18 to Stoeng Treng province, December 30 to Takeo province. I also have to figure out my schedule to go to Mondulkiri and Koh Kong provinces./.