Urban Land Conflict in Cambodia: Phnom Penh, Koh Pich Case

Secure access to land is a crucial factor to economic development and social prosperity. For the last few years, in the Kingdom of Cambodia, land conflict has been among the key causes of people’s livelihood and poverty. In fact, it is one of the major social issues in the country. Some cases even became violent conflicts (criminal cases) such as the Poi Pet land conflict in March 2005. The Cambodian land situation becomes serious in comparison with its neighbouring countries like Thailand and Vietnam.

In general, conflicts among local or national authorities and villagers are relatively difficult to resolve based on the Cambodian land law. The specific situation in particular deals with authorities who use their administrative or economic power to force poor villagers to leave their land, offering only a small amount of monetary compensation in comparison to the real values and respective local land market prices. In reality, these villagers are quite voiceless and administratively powerless even if they hold an official land title or legal possession which authorities would recognize.

This paper presents an example of a particular urban land conflict in Phnom Penh City, Kingdom of Cambodia, the Koh Pich (Diamond Island) case. This island is situated opposite Nagar Hotel and the Casino Building, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Assembly construction site. The conflict, between the municipality of Phnom Penh and Koh Pich residents, occurred in 2004 at the time when the municipality agreed with Canadia Bank to start investments on this island. Since then this conflict has been smouldering continuously. In June 2005, the municipality issued a final ultimatum to 23 families still living on Koh Pich to accept the compensation of $6.75 per square meter or face a law suit. Most of the 307 families previously living on the island have already left, accepting similar ultimatums before. The majority of them were poor and with little to no documentation to claim their land. Those who remain have land titles and are confident to win the law suit and expect a higher compensation of about $23 per square meter.