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TIMELINE-Land politics in Cambodia

by Chris Arsenault | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 29 November 2016 15:00 GMT

Campaigners say that without titles demarcating ownership, powerful interests have been able to take control of vast swathes of land

By Chris Arsenault

KAMPONG SPEU PROVINCE, Cambodia, Nov 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cambodia has been a hot bed of land conflict since the Khmer Rouge regime's destruction of the nation's property records to establish a form in communism in the 1970s.

Hundreds of thousands of farmers were forced off their land during the regime's time in power. A decision on whether the International Criminal Court (ICC) will proceed with charges of crimes against humanity against the government and business leaders is expected in the next few months.

The ICC case is the latest example of land conflict in a nation which has seen both rapid economic growth and poverty reduction amid foreign investment.

Campaigners say that without titles demarcating ownership, powerful interests have been able to take control of vast swathes of land, displacing local residents in the process.

Cambodia's government agrees there have been territorial conflicts and says it is working with consultants and business to protect the rights of small farmers and the urban poor.

Here is a timeline of land politics in Cambodia:

1953: King Norodom Sihanouk proclaims independence from France, but soon abdicates to go into politics. The kingdom maintained colonial-era land records for ownership over key properties, while rural communities used traditional, informal systems to mark who owned different pieces of land.

March 18, 1970: Premier Lon Nol, backed by the U.S, ousts Sihanouk as prime minister while the latter is overseas.

April 17, 1975: The Khmer Rouge seize the capital, Phnom Penh, and start emptying cities and towns in a bid to create an agrarian society. Property is expropriated, land records destroyed and much of the population uprooted from traditional land holding systems.

Jan 7, 1979: Vietnamese troops occupy Phnom Penh, driving the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, to the Thai border. The occupation is to last 10 years.

1992: Cambodia passes its first post-Khmer Rouge land law allowing for private ownership, the transfer of territory. Large holdings are known as economic land concessions (ELCs).

May 1993: An election run by the U.N. produces a shaky coalition between Sihanouk's son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla installed as PM by Hanoi in the mid-1980s.

August 2001: Cambodia's National Assembly adopts a new Land Law making it easier for individuals and companies to register land.

March 2003: After years of negotiation, Cambodia and the U.N. agree to set up a joint "Killing Fields" court to prosecute those responsible for the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.

May 17, 2012: Prime Minister Hun Sen enacts a moratorium on the granting of new ELCs and large land holdings by investors. The directive also includes a systematic review of ELCs.

June 28, 2012: Cambodia's government launches a mass rural land titling scheme with the help of university students who travel to rural areas to register land. Hundreds of thousands of people receive title deeds.

Oct. 7, 2014: Lawyers launch a case at the ICC accusing Cambodia's government and business elite of forcing 770,000 people off their land. The government denies the charges, which they say are a ploy by an opposition party.

Oct. 7, 2015: Researchers at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment launch openlandcontracts.org in New York to open deals with large investors to public scrutiny.

Nov. 2016: Cambodian land ministry official says it has provided more than four million land titles to farmers and aims to complete the titling process by 2023.

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault, editing by Jo Griffin and Paola Totaro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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