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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Government Bolsters Efforts Against Squatters

The Council of Ministers on Friday approved a legal circular that instructs provincial and municipal authorities to seek resolutions to illegal settlements on state property.

The order tells authorities to first meet with community representatives on state land to inform them of development projects and to then discuss compensation for residents.

The circular creates a regulation for measures already practiced by authorities, critics said Friday, and it does not address situations where residents refuse to leave.

Cambodian officials have steadily found themselves at odds with squatter communities, where land values have boomed and development projects are springing up.

The order is to “inform all provinces and municipal authorities to solve illegal construction on state land through discussion with residents,” according to the draft pass by the Council on Friday.

The order is meant “to solve the anarchic construction [done] without order on the state land, where the occupier has come to settle illegally and to construct a house without order [creating] a lack of road passage and lack of hygiene.”

The order now gives officials more authority to act against squatter communities who may not be getting enough compensation, opponents said Friday.

“This [order] is good, but we worry about the concrete implementation of it, because the government has not provided fair compensation to people in exchange for their removal,” said Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party. “If there are effects to the people because of the [order] we would like the government to respect the constitution and to fairly compensate people through the market price.”

The measure is not clear about compensation, leaving room for authorities to offer low prices to residents, which can lead to conflict, said Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc.

Thai Navy, a 39-year-old resident of the Boeung Kak lake community, which has been locked in a dispute with Phnom Penh over a giant development project since 2008, said representatives were not happy with the measure.

“The resolution to remove houses is the same as before,” he said.

The city’s policy is to pay Boeung Kak residents $8,500 per family or to offer lots of land on the outskirts of the city. Residents have said that is not enough, but there has been no forced eviction in the area to date.

The order comes as Cambodia faces increased criticism of forced evictions of the urban poor.

In an annual report issued Thursday, Amnesty International said “a wave of legal actions against housing rights defenders, journalists and other critical voices” had “stifled freedom of expression in Cambodia.”
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Vietnamese firms set on mining gold reserves in Cambodia

The recent discovery of around 8.1 million tons of gold in Cambodia has caught the interest of many Vietnamese companies who now want to enter the gold mining sector in the neighboring country.

Nguyen Thanh Truc, director of Agribank’s subsidiary in charge of trading gold, said the Cambodian mine has the largest gold reserves in Southeast Asia and its discovery has encouraged Vietnamese companies to hatch plans to mine there.

When the time is right, his company will make such a move, Truc said in a report published by local news website VnExpress Friday. However, he noted that as the ore contains only 2.3 grams per ton, lower than the usual grade of 3 gram per ton, the project may not be highly lucrative.

Cambodia said Monday that Australian firm OZ Minerals had discovered around 8.1 million tons of gold on its territory. The gold mine is located in an area in the northeastern province of Mondulkiri, which is close to the Vietnam-Cambodia border, and only 100 kilometers from the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.

Some 60 local and foreign firms including companies from Australia, China, South Korea and Vietnam have been conducting mineral research and exploration across Cambodia, AFP reported, citing an official.

“It will be a great opportunity if Vietnamese companies can invest in the mine, although local technologies are not to a high standard,” said Nguyen The Hung, general director of Vietnam Gold Investment and Trading Company.

Cambodia still depends on foreign mining companies and many Vietnamese firms have recently expanded their business to the neighboring country, Hung said.

Vietnam’s companies have invested a combined US$1 billion into Cambodia, with many projects in the mining sector. However, the Ministry of Planning and Investment has not yet licensed any gold mining projects.

Nguyen Tuan Quynh, deputy director of Phu Nhuan Jewelry Company, one of Vietnam’s largest gold traders, said mining is a profitable business and it’s quite easy to apply for licenses to invest in Cambodia.

However, mining costs, conditions and transport are some issues that Vietnamese companies have to consider before making their move, Quynh said.

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