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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Groups Warn of Abuse Increases in Land, Resource Deals

Villagers in the provinces of Koh Kong and Kampong Speu have alleged that sugar plantations operated by Ly Yong Phat have pushed them off their land.



Government land concessions and the exploitation of natural resources are creating an increasing number of rights violations and other pressures on villagers, a group of local non-governmental organizations said Wednesday.

“Land concessions are affecting Cambodian villages and communities in some provinces,” said Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, speaking at a national conference for advocacy in Phnom Penh.

The number of land issues has increased over the last nine months, he said, leading to an increase in rights abuses.

An Adhoc study of land issues in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kampong Speu, Koh Kong, Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Banteay Meanchey found 272 ongoing land disputes. As a result, it found 128 people had been arrested and more than 100 had evaded detention. Fifty-five people remain in custody, facing criminal charges related to protests in the disputes.

Wednesday's conference brought together hundreds from across Cambodia, some of whom were representatives of villages feeling the strain of land concessions.

“Now there are 31 families with land issues with the Heng Houy [sugar plantation],” Phoa Ngeng, a resident of Chi Kar Krom commune of Koh Kong province's Sre Ambel district, said.

People there live in fear, she said, with at least one or two people summoned to provincial court every day. She called on the national government to stop providing land concessions to private companies to prevent rights violations.

Heng Houy, the head of the company, has said he obtained the concession legally and had purchased land legitimately from villagers.

Ongoing disputes create the loss of farmland for villagers and other livelihoods, villagers at the conference said. Meanwhile, minority villagers have been pushed from homes and forests that are an important part of their culture.

Meanwhile, exploitation of resources, including for hydropower, have increased the burdens on some villagers.

For example, the Srepok and Yali hydropower dams in Vietnam have created poor living conditions for people downstream.

Kong Chanty, a resident of Stung Treng province's Sesan district, said Wednesday that the dams have pushed more than 1,000 families from 18 villagers from their homeland.

“Now we have moved the houses to a near area, and we lost villages and the land, the farming fields and our ethnic culture,” he said.
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Ban Ki-moon Expected Later This Month

Ban Ki-moon, right, Secretary General of United Nations meets with Hor Namhong, deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Cambodia, left, at United Nations, September 2010.



UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to make an official visit at the end of the month, and observers say they hope he will address human rights issues as well as the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

“The impression about this trip is that it is to focus on the Khmer Rouge tribunal,” said Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

However, if Ban is traveling with the vice chairman of the UN's Human Rights Commission, rights abuse could be on the agenda, he said.

The UN may be pushing for more funding at the tribunal, which has struggled financially all year, while it must also push for independence at the court, he said. The court also needs a proper mechanism to fight allegations of corruption, Ou Virak said.

Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Ban was expected Oct. 26 through Oct. 28, but he did not outline details for meetings.

Earlier this year, Ban made an appeal to donors to fund the UN-backed court, which has tried one former Khmer Rouge, and is preparing a case for four more.

Further indictments have proven difficult, and critics say the government has hampered the work of the court, especially with the refusal of six senior government officials ignoring summonses from the international investigating judge.

A diplomat in New York said donors are waiting to see a strategy for winding down the court before they commit to more funding.

Seng Theary, founder of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation and a participant in the trials so far, said she hoped Ban's visit would relieve the pressures of funding, as well as political interference, for the court.
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