Cambodian parliamentarians want a loan freeze in place until authorities resolve a land dispute. More than a dozen opposition lawmakers have signed a petition asking the World Bank to maintain a suspension of all funding to the Cambodian government until authorities resolve a long-running land dispute in the capital of Phnom Penh. Fifteen members of parliament from the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) sent the document to the World Bank on Monday, urging the continuation of the suspension put into place in August. They said the loan freeze would pressure the Cambodian government into clearly defining an area of land set aside for villagers facing eviction at Boeung Kak Lake. The World Bank halted loans last month “until an agreement is reached with the residents.” Its last loan to the country was provided in December last year. The SRP petition came days after a violent clash between residents and anti-riot police left at least one village representative seriously injured. The police had been sent by municipal authorities to protect workers demolishing residents’ homes to make way for a luxury residential area. One SRP lawmaker told RFA during his visit to the site that the developer hadn’t complied with last month’s government sub decree providing the villagers with land to develop themselves. “Shukaku Inc. has intended to breach the government decision,” the SRP parliamentarian said. Shukaku Inc., a Chinese-Cambodian company owned by a politician from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, has been filling in the lake with sand in preparation for construction of the new apartment complex. “We will file a complaint against the perpetrators who assaulted the civilians. People are losing their land—they have nowhere to live anymore.” Eight homes were demolished during the September 16 clash.
The SRP lawmakers also called on the Cambodian government to block any sand pumping at the lake until “a final solution has been reached between the residents and the company.” They demanded that Shukaku compensate the residents of the eight destroyed homes, who have since built temporarily shelters on their former plots in an effort to protect them from the company. They also insisted that the company compensate villager Soung Sophoan for his medical treatment after he was left unconscious and bloodied following a confrontation with police, calling the assault “a premeditated act” against the activist. The families had marched across the city on Thursday to the U.S., U.K., and Chinese embassies, pleading for intervention and calling on Hun Sen for assistance. But the developer moved in a day later, and as they watched their homes being destroyed, many were left to wonder what recourse remained for them. Nearly 3,000 families had been evicted from the site before Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered 12.44 hectares (31 acres) reserved for 794 remaining families in August. But local authorities have excluded 47 families from the land, and villagers say that the implementation of the decree has lacked transparency. The protesters were from among the excluded families, who authorities said did not have land titles recognized by the government.
Hun Sen’s decision to earmark property for the remaining families came a week after an announcement by the World Bank that it would halt new loans to Cambodia until the land dispute was resolved. But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told RFA at the time that the decision was not a result of pressure from the World Bank, adding that it was “the government’s stance” on the issue. Boeung Kak villagers welcomed the government’s decision, but expressed concern that corruption and mismanagement by local authorities might leave residents landless in the end. They said the central government would be less motivated to follow through on implementation because it had simply cut a deal with the villagers in a bid to restart funding from the World Bank. In March, an independent inspection panel found that the World Bank had mishandled a land titling program that led to the eviction of residents from the lake district over the past two years. Following the panel’s findings, the bank offered to help the government find a solution for the residents, but it also warned that it would reconsider its work in the country if the forced relocations were not halted. The families who remained at Boeung Kak Lake had held frequent protests in recent months, saying they were holding out for property on the same site after the construction is complete, or for greater compensation. They say they are entitled to the property under Cambodia’s Land Law, having lived there for decades. Police and company workers had threatened and harassed the residents in attempts to prevent them from holding meetings and from peacefully protesting against the forced eviction. Police had also used excessive force against some residents when they gathered to bring the issue to the attention of visiting dignitaries and Cambodian politicians, rights groups said.
Cambodia’s land issue dates from the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, which forced large-scale evacuations and relocations throughout the country. This was followed by mass confusion over land rights and the formation of squatter communities when the refugees returned in the 1990s after a decade of civil war. Housing Cambodia’s large, young, and overwhelmingly poor population has posed a major problem ever since. An estimated 30,000 people a year in Cambodia are driven from farmland or urban areas to make way for real estate developments or mining and agricultural projects.
Reported and translated by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.