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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

World Bank urges Cambodia to stop mass eviction

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – The World Bank called on Cambodia Wednesday to halt a mass eviction taking place in the capital amid mounting criticism over forced displacements in the country.

"We are deeply troubled and frustrated about the people who are being forced from their homes," World Bank president Robert Zoellick said in a statement.

A private company headed by a ruling party politician is filling in a lake in central Phnom Penh for commercial development, a controversial project that will eventually displace some 4,000 lakeside families.

Half the residents living on the shores of the Boeung Kak lake have already left, but they received only limited compensation from the company, according to a local housing rights group.

The remaining residents have held frequent protests in recent weeks, urging the company and the government to provide adequate compensation or allow them to stay in their homes.

The Bank is offering the Cambodian government "financing and technical advice to find practical solutions," Zoellick said. "We have repeatedly called on the government to end the evictions."

Cambodia has faced mounting criticism over a spate of forced evictions in recent years.

Last month the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, said he was "deeply concerned" about land rights violations.

In 2009 alone, at least 26 cases of mass evictions displaced approximately 27,000 people across the country, according to a UN report issued last year.

Land disputes have been a major problem in the country since land ownership was abolished during the 1975-1979 rule of the communist Khmer Rouge. Many legal documents were lost during that time.

The World Bank started a land titling programme in Cambodia in 2002 to address these issues, but it failed to include the Boeung Kak lake residents.

The government cancelled the programme in 2009, saying it was "too difficult".

A investigation by the World Bank later found that the lake residents were displaced in violation of policies it had agreed with the government for handling resettlement.

The Bank recognised it had been too slow to respond to the evictions, however.

A spokeswoman for the Cambodian Ministry of Land Management refused to comment on the statement but said a government response was expected shortly.

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