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World Bank Considers Help for Lake Evictees

The World Bank Inspection Panel has until end of March to decide whether to investigate claims by a US rights group that the bank failed to secure land titles for residents of a Phnom Penh development.

World Bank officials are negotiating with the Cambodian government to find a resolution for residents of the Boeung Kak lake development who face eviction as the development proceeds.

“A World Bank delegation has already met me,” Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun told VOA Khmer by phone. “I am now happy because the bank has changed its position, or we can even say changing the topic of its focus, to using language that is pleasant to hear, which is ‘to help improve the living conditions of people who have been resettled.’”

Mann Chhoeun said the World Bank is now looking for a pilot project for the new initiative.

“Once the World Bank sets a new target like this, it makes me very happy,” he said. “I am happy because we are walking on a path where there is no more extreme criticism” of the government, Mann Chhoeun said.

Officials at the World Bank in Washington declined to comment on the meeting.

Boeung Kak residents who have not been evicted yet have asked for onsite development, after their land was leased to the developer, Shukaku, Inc.

“The best way to help the Boeung Kak community is for the Cambodian government to accept the World Bank’s offer of assistance to support resettlement onsite for the residents and ensure that the development of the area has the least negative impact possible on the environment,” said David Pred, country director for Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia.

Bridges Across Borders operates in alliance with the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, the US group that brought a complaint to the World Bank, saying its program had not helped residents at the lake with land titles.

A statement released by the World Bank on Dec. 17, 2009, says the bank is ready to help improve the living conditions of those who have been resettled or are facing eviction.

Its offer includes reviewing the government’s policy and for resettlement and providing support to improve the living conditions and livelihood opportunities for people who have been resettled to relocation sites.

Mann Chhoeun said he has agreed to the onsite development, but people should be moved out first.

“If we want to have onsite development, it must also be consistent with the master plan,” he said. “It does not mean building anything that is different from the plan. There should be relocation to another appropriate place.”

“After we finish building offices, sports facilities, business centers, and recreation areas, then they can move back,” he said. “Onsite development does not mean that they have to resist and stay on the spot.”

But Soy Kolap, a representative of Village 6 residents, disagrees.

“I demand not to leave Boeung Kak area,” she told VOA Khmer. “I prefer rotating sites in the area. For example, if the company builds a house for us at location A, I would move to location B, which is nearby, because this is the place where I live and earn a living. I don’t want to move away from this place.”

On March 10 and March 11, residents took another step, protesting in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’ house to ask for a continued stay and proper land titles. They have so far received no answer.

The residents will have to be relocated to Trapeang Anchanh, some 20 kilometers outside of Phnom Penh, for four years while they wait for construction of permanent residences at Boeung Kak, according to COHRE.

Lao Mengkhin, a ruling Cambodian People’s Party senator and Shukaku CEO, said people will have to be moved.

“How can they develop?” he said in an interview. “Where do they get the money from? They are all poor people. What can they do?”