GENERAL APPEAL (Cambodia): A senior army officer allegedly pressures local authorities in order to illegally grab land


ISSUES: Land rights,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that an army general allegedly illegally grabbed land belonging to an ethnic minority community in Rattanakiri province, Cambodia since mid 2006. In order to get ownership for the land he claimed, he has also put pressure on both the community and the local authorities to assert his ownership over the land.

CASE DETAILS: (based on information from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and villagers of Jarai community)

In 1993 Army General Kao Try, director of Preah Ket Mealea Military Hospital in Phnom Penh and advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, secured, through direct contact with district officials and district cadastral officials, the authorisation for the cultivation of tapioca for three years of 50 hectares of land belonging to the Jarai ethnic minority community in Ta Ker village, Lumchor commune, and Pho-Or village, Kong Thom village and Kong York village, Pate commune, O’Yadao district in Rattanakiri province.

In 1994 Kao Try planted beans and sesame on most of the 27 hectares of the land, instead of tapioca. The crop failed completely, though. In the same year he secured the ownership titles to the land. Then, the same officials who had cooperated with him, under the protection of the police force, planted cement posts to mark the land and also the road that was to be built across the area. The villagers were opposed to this land marking and subsequently, removed and destroyed all the land posts. They did not recognize Kao Try’s ownership of the land in question, asserting that it was their ancestral land and they had been officially living on it since 1979, after the overthrow of the harsh communist Pol Pot regime.

From then onwards, no further action was taken on the part of Kao Try, the district authorities, or the district land office, until December 2005 when Kao Try submitted a set of ownership title documents to the provincial authorities and requested them to secure, through a compromise with the villagers, his ownership of the land in question. There were originally 90 title documents covering altogether 450 hectares of the land belonging to 180 families with altogether over 1,000 people living in the four villages. Each title covers a plot of land and bears the name of the owner of that plot. Each of the 90 titles has different names, including Kao Try. All these names are those of people living outside Rattanakiri province. After examination by the authorities, 30 titles were withdrawn, and now the remaining 30 titles cover an area of 350 hectares.

The affected villagers protested against Kao Try’s ownership of their land and sent complaints to the provincial authorities and all relevant provincial government departments.

In mid 2006 Kao Try sent his people to mark the boundary of the land in question. The villagers were opposed to it and sent another complaint, this time, to the Ministry of Interior through the district and provincial authorities.

In June 2006, soon after Kao Try’s claim and the ensuing conflict with the villagers, the provincial governor, Chey Sa Yoeun, sent a report on the dispute to the Prime Minister which included Kao Try’s threats and intimidation to plant land posts and send in tractors to clear everything on the land.

In July, Kao Try sent three representatives named Nhem Kosal, Mark Klaut and Rin to make arrangements with the provincial authorities to offer half of the land to the community. The villagers rejected the offer, and in August they sent complaints to their Member of Parliament named Bou Thang, the provincial governor and the Prime Minister, requesting them to intervene to stop the grabbing of their land by Kao Try.

In September the villagers filed a lawsuit in the provincial court against Kao Try, but the court did not accept their lawsuit as they could not afford a bond of 2 millions riels (USD 500) as required by law. In the meantime, the Prime Minister forwarded the provincial governor’s July report and their report to the Ministry of National Defence for investigation.

In December Kao Try’s wife, Heng Mony, represented by a lawyer named Hen Sotheara, filed a lawsuit in the provincial court against five persons for “stealing the land” in question. These five persons are: Phann Kong, fist deputy district governor of O’Yadao, Chhim Chhean, second deputy district governor, Tao Paen, merchant, Kruy Kea, merchant, Puoy Yong, leader of the affected community, and Chhal Lin, another representative of the same community.

On 15 December, in a statement submitted to an investigation team from the Ministry of National Defence, Puoy Yong, leader of the affected community, together with two other community representatives, said that “the land can be taken away when his community is compensated with land possessing the same characteristics as the land in question, or after the villagers living in the four villages in the two communes have all passed away.”

In January 2007, Phann Kong, second governor of O’Yadao district, who is facing a lawsuit over the land dispute, sent a complaint to the Prime Minister, bluntly accusing Kao Try of land grabbing.

Puoy Yong stated that after the dispute had flared up in December, a soldier named Born pressurized him to withdraw his complaints against Kao Try, warning that he could not win the case as Kao Try possessed all the legal documents for the land. Born threatened Puoy Yong by warning him that he will lose the case and must pay damages to Kao Try.

Provincial governor Chay Sa Yoeun has been reported as saying that he, too, had come under pressure in the same land dispute. But, according to him, Kao Try’s documents to stake his claim on the villagers’ land that were signed by the local authorities was “not valid” as Kao Try had only “borrowed” that land in the first place. Kao Try’s lawyer, Hen Sotheara, disputed this claim and asserted that his client had all the documents and land titles to prove that he had a legal right to the land.


The land in question that Kao Try had tried to claim ownership of includes the houses of 180 families who live on the land, orchards with fruit trees such as cashew nuts and jack fruits, paddyfields, and a school.

According to the land law in force in 1993, when land has not been used for a period of five years, all title deeds on it will cease. The land law enacted in 2001 recognises that peaceful occupation of land for a continuous period of five years without anyone contesting it prior to the enactment of this law, bestows rightful ownership of that land to the occupant.


Rattanakiri is a northeastern province of Cambodia. It is sparsely populated and used to be a very remote province. Its population is composed mostly of indigenous people of different ethnic groups, and Jarai is one of them. Over recent years, people from other areas, mostly the powerful and the rich from the capital, have gone there to occupy the land and/or do logging.

This “land rush” and deforestation has threatened the livelihood and culture of those ethnic minorities as they depend mainly on the area for their traditional slash-and burn-cultivation and also on forestry products for their livelihood. It has caused many land disputes between the powerful and rich outsiders and the local population.

Land disputes, a phenomenon commonly known as land grabbing, are a big problem in Cambodia. The strong parties, that is, the powerful and the rich, mainly through illicit means, secure government decisions and land titles and also cooperation from law enforcement agencies to execute the decisions and evict the weaker parties from their homes or lands. The strong parties can also, through illicit means, put pressure on judges to adjudicate disputes in their favour.

Victims of land grabbing normally protest against such injustices. They defy unjust government or court orders and put up resistance to their evictions. Very often law enforcement agencies use force to evict them from their homes and lands, and/or arrest recalcitrant elements, especially their leaders, on charges of “incitement”, damage to property, or illegal occupation of property.

To defend themselves, the weaker parties appeal for help from the top leaders of the country (Prime Minister and Parliament) and/or from human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and also the sympathetic media to publicise their case. In their struggle for justice they band together and protest against the grabbing of their land in front of the Prime Minister’s residence or the parliament, or in front of courts of law or local government offices. In doing so, they have to face all consequences as peaceful protests or demonstrations are practically banned and the police enforce this ban with force.

Evictees have received responses to their appeals that are more religious in tone, rather than substantive. It is rare their demands are met. The most they have been able to get so far is improved compensation for the loss of their homes and lands.

Please write letters to the authorities listed below urging them to put an end to this particular land grabbing case in favour of the Jarai ethnic minority community. They should support and encourage the locals to develop their own land for the preservation of their cultures.

The AHRC has written separate letters to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia and Special Rapporteur on adequate housing calling for their intervention in this matter.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER



CAMBODIA: A senior army officer allegedly pressures local authorities to illegally grab land

Name of victims: 180 families in addition to 1,000 family members
Name of alleged perpetrators: Army General Kao Try, director of Preah Ket Mealea Military Hospital in Phnom Penh and advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen
Date of incident: since mid 2006
Place of incident: the Jarai ethnic minority community in Pate and Lumchor communes, O’Yadav district, Rattanakiri province

I am writing to express my deep concern over the dispute between an army general named Kao Try and 180 families of the Jarai ethnic minority community over 350 hectares of land in Pate and Lumchor communes, O’Yadao district, in the northeastern province of Rattanakiri.

I have learned that in 1993 Kao Try secured, without the slightest knowledge of the community, the utilization for a crop plantation of 50 hectares of land belonging to it. He abandoned the land after the first crop had failed and his attempt to build an enclosure around the land also failed due to opposition from the community.

More than 10 years later, in 2005, Kao Try arranged to have ownership titles bearing different names of people living outside the province, not only to the 50 hectares but to 350 hectares of the land of the same community. He then put pressure on the provincial authorities to arrange a compromise with the affected villagers to move out of the land.

The villagers refused to recognize Kao Try’s ownership of the land, even after he had offered to give half of it to them. He then threatened to build an enclosure and send tractors to clear everything on the land, presumably including the villagers’ houses and other belongings. Still the villagers did not move.

Even the provincial authorities themselves have felt pressure from Kao Try and his repeated threats and intimidation of the villagers whose cause they seem to support. Provincial governor Chey Sa Yoeun mentioned these threats and intimidations in his report on this particular dispute to the Prime Minister in June 2007. Recently he let it be known he had experienced pressure over the same dispute.

Kao Try’s carrot and stick tactics have failed. Then in December 2007, he filed a lawsuit in the provincial court of Rattanakiri against five persons, accusing them of grabbing his land. These persons are: Phann Kong, first deputy district governor of O’Yadao,  Chhim Chhean, second deputy district governor, Tao Pen, merchant, Kruy Kea, merchant, Puoy Yong, leader of the affected community, and Chhal Lin, another representative of the same community.

Considering the pressure he has placed on the provincial authorities to cooperate with, I strongly suspect that Kao Try would not be afraid of using his position to pressurise the court to ignore the legitimate rights of the community and adjudicate the case in his favour. The fate of those villagers would be sealed, and they would be forcibly evicted from their homes and land, and made destitute.

I therefore urge you to put an end to Kao Try’s grabbing of the land that belongs to the Jarai community. He has no legitimate case and you prevent him from abusing his public position for personal gains at the expense of the 180 families. You must instead seek to encourage and support these families to develop their own land for maintenance of their livelihood and the preservation of their environment and cultures.

Yours sincerely,


1. Mr. Hun Sen
Prime Minister
Cabinet of the Prime Minister
No. 38, Russian Federation Street
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 36 0666
Tel: +855 2321 9898

2. Mr. Sar Kheng
Deputy-Prime Minister
Minister of Interior
No.275 Norodom Blvd., Phnom Penh 
Fax/phone: +855 23 721 905 / 23 726 052 / 23 721 190 

3. Mr. Tea Banh
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of National Defence
Russian Federation Street
Phnom Penh
Tel: +855-23 883184 / 428171
Fax: +855-23 883184

4. Mr. Ang Vong Vathna
Minster of Justice
No 240, Sothearos Blvd.
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 36 4119 / 21 6622

5. Mr. Chan Sarun
Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries 
#200 Norodom Blvd. 
Sangkat Tonle Basak
Khan Chamkarmorn 
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855-23 217320
Tel: +855-23 211351 / 211352

6. General Hok Lundy
National Police Commissioner
General-Commisariat of National Police
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 22 09 52
Tel: +855 23 21 65 85

7. General Sao Sokha
Military Police
Mao Tse Tung Blvd
Khan Tuol Kok
Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 12 36 3636

8. Ms Margo Picken
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Cambodia
N 10, Street 302
Sangkat Boeng Keng Kang I
Khan Chamcar Mon
Phnom Penh
Tel: +855-23-987 671 / 987 672, 993 590 / 993 591 or +855 23 216 342 
Fax: +855-23-212 579, 213 587

Thank you

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (

Document Type : Urgent Appeal General
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Land rights,