UN criticizes Cambodia over land eviction

Friday, July 17, 2009

Phnom Penh - The UN on Friday joined a chorus of international criticism aimed at the Cambodian government's handling of a land dispute that led to a community of more than 70 families surrendering its property to developers on Thursday and Friday.

A statement by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed 'regret' over the eviction of the riverside community, known as Group 78, saying the residents 'had to leave their settlement before their claims to land ownership had been adequately determined by the relevant judicial and administrative mechanisms.'

'This eviction sends the signal to communities with similar claims that, no matter what their rights are under the law, development interests trump due process and land rights,' it said. 'The relocation was not voluntary, as families left under duress and were presented with no other option but to accept inadequate compensation.'

Witnesses said more than 60 police officers dressed in riot gear entered the settlement at dawn Friday to remove a handful of families who had refused government compensation offers of 8,000 US dollars for their homes.

The families reportedly left their homes peacefully after accepting a new compensation offer.

Workers from the Phnom Penh Municipal Authority began dismantling houses in the settlement Thursday after a first round of families accepted the offer.

City authorities say the eviction is part of a 'beautification' project in the area, which is located near the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and is regarded as some of the most valuable land in the capital.

The Group 78 settlement will likely be cleared to build a road leading to a new bridge, city officials say.

Kan Sophal, who lived in the collection of wooden and corrugated-iron shacks for 10 years, said he did not know where his family of five would relocate.

'We accept the offer and we are leaving,' he said as workers hacked into walls of his home. 'But there was no offer of land with the compensation, so we do not know where we will go.'

Mann Chhoeun, Phnom Penh's deputy governor, said workers had been instructed to keep building materials and structures intact so the families could reconstruct them on new plots of land.

'This process has been done in a respectful and humanitarian way,' he said.

The World Bank, the European Union, and a range of international embassies in the capital on Thursday evening issued a joint statement on the eviction, which called on the government to 'stop forced evictions from disputed areas in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in the country.'

'This has become a major problem in Phnom Penh and other fast-growing cities in Cambodia - creating uncertainty for, and putting at risk the livelihoods of, thousands of poor people living in disputed urban areas,' the statement said.

Amnesty International condemned the eviction, saying the families had 'no choice but to accept inadequate compensation rather than have their homes demolished.'

'The Municipality of Phnom Penh made no attempts to properly consult with the affected community or explore any feasible alternative to eviction,' said Brittis Edman, an Amnesty representative in Cambodia. 'This makes a mockery of the government's obligations to protect the right to housing.'

Read more: http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/asiapacific/news/article_1490314.php/UN_criticizes_Cambodia_over_land_eviction_#ixzz0LeDrdXP7



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