The World Bank yesterday welcomed a government decision to offer on-site relocation to residents of Boeung Kak lake, following the international body’s move to suspend all funding to Cambodia over the issue.
Country director for World Bank, Annette Dixon, said yesterday the move to award 12.44 hectares of land to families set to be evicted to make way for a Phnom Penh housing development “appears to be a positive development and we hope that it will lead to a good outcome for the residents of Boeung Kak Lake”. She declined to confirm whether the bank would now release the suspended funds.
Despite wide-spread speculation that pressure from the international body led to the decision, government spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that, though lessons had been learned from the “challenging” dispute, the outcome had absolutely nothing to do with the World Bank.
“It was an independent decision from City Hall free from outside pressure,” he said.
But Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said such claims were a government attempt to protect its image.
“They don’t want to lose honour,” he said, adding that the land grant was a step towards the bank resuming funding to the Kingdom.
The land offer, nevertheless, has been seen as a major development in the long-running dispute.
A press statement from the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions released yesterday said that a sub-decree which set out the offer signaled the “beginning of the end” of a long battle that had seen a cycle of evictions, protests and violence.
“It is likely the result of a number of factors including ongoing negotiations amongst the Municipality of Phnom Penh, community people, the World Bank, development partners and civil society,” it said.
Two groups of villagers at the site – who have for years protested over the issue – are now considering how to divide the land and intend to negotiate with the government to find a solution that suits all.
Sia Phearum said that he favoured a plan proposed by the larger of the two Boeung Kak community groups in which the land would be divided equally amongst everyone into 4 by 16 metre plots, which would allow all families to build on the ground floor and enable them to sell goods.
Most of the families at Boeung Kak yesterday said they were overjoyed that the dispute with ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin’s company Shukaku Inc had moved forward.
In a statement released yesterday, representatives of 756 families said the decision “proves the wise leadership” of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
But others expressed dismay that they had sold their houses to the developer just days before.
A home owner, who declined to be named, said yesterday she had nothing to celebrate because she sold her house to Shukaku Inc three days ago for $25,000 and would not now be eligible to relocate.
“I sold my house and land to the Shukaku company two days before the premier Hun Sen decided to cut the land in this area to provide for the people in Boeung Kak lake.”
Shukaku was granted a 99-year lease at Boeung Kak in 2007 allowing them to fill in the lake to construct real estate developments on the reclaimed land and in surrounding areas, a project which Chinese firm Erdos Hong Jun Investment Company later took a 51-percent stake in.