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Human Rights Still Weak, UN Envoy Says

Cambodians live in fear—of the state, swindlers, police and the courts—a UN special envoy said Monday, in the midst of a ten-day visit on International Human Rights Day.

Yash Ghai, the UN secretary-general's special human rights envoy to Cambodia, said tours of numerous communities across Cambodia demonstrated that the rights situation was getting worse.

To mark Rights Day, groups appealed to the government to halt land theft of the dispossessed and the arrests of protesters. A mass rally was held, and included the participation of Ghai and US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli.

Ghai called on people to celebrate "our common humanity and our common commitment to human rights and human dignity."

"I think it's very good sign that this march was allowed after all these years," Mussomeli said. "Things are getting a little better."

But the rights to property, freedom of expression and other basic rights have suffered in recent months, groups said.

"There is still a lack of necessary basic human rights, such as land rights, and freedom of expression," said Thun Saray, head of the rights group Adhoc.

Government officials told the Associated Press they refused to meet with Ghai, who has emerged as a sharp critique of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his policies.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said development projects were not evicting people.

"They prepared another place for the people," he said. "Now the problem is there are many people who know what places are to be developed."

Squatters who anticipate the rising value of land move in and take over, he said.

"When the authorities went, it was the people that used weapons—guns—against the authorities, who wear the king's seal," he said. "It is like this everywhere."

Meanwhile on Rights Day, labor leaders in Siem Reap say they were threatened for joining in marches on Monday.

Ken Chheng Lang, vice president of the Cambodian Construction Federation, said an anonymous caller claiming to be the provincial governor insinuated that the Federation's plans to submit a petition to the provincial governor could lead them to harm.

"I asked him who he was, where he was coming from. I asked him that," Ken Cheng Lang said. "He said, 'I am the provincial governor. You are strong? Come to my place right away. I am at the provincial hall, waiting to meet you. If you have any grief, come to meet with me, you don't have to do that. Your letter of information is big? How big is it, that letter of information.'"

Then the caller hung up.

Provincial Governor Sou Phirin said he had not called, and he would look into the allegations.