Conflict over land is the leading issue facing Cambodia in the early 21st century. The conflict is especially intense in Cambodia’s northwest, a resource-rich region home to most of the country’s 455 indigenous communities. Cambodia recognizes collective land ownership for indigenous peoples (IPs) – a core concept in the cultural identity of Cambodia’s IPs – but the distribution of collective titles has been almost non-existent, with only three communities completing the process. Complicating matters, Cambodia instituted a new land titling program in June 2012 to expedite the issuance of titles to rural Cambodians. The program has no provision for issuing collective titles to IPs, but it is operating in indigenous areas nonetheless. This is concerning because under Cambodian law, IPs who accept private titles are no longer entitled to collective title.
This paper examines the ongoing land registration process in six indigenous villages in Cambodia’s northeast, with a focus on the new titling program. We conclude that there are key indicators that can predict IPs’ success or failure in obtaining a collective title. Those with the right markers are continuing toward their collective titles; those on the wrong side are struggling with external pressures on their land and misconceptions about the law.