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Government Bolsters Efforts Against Squatters

  • Chun Sakada
  • VOA Khmer

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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