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Report: Development Policies Increasingly Displace the Poor

Government development policies dispossessed more than 4,600 families from the capital in 2006, a worsening trend that denies basic rights to a high number of poor, according to a recently issued report.

People were ejected from their homes without consent or compensation in 10 cases in Phnom Penh, and the same fate befell the provincial poor six times, the report, issued recently by the rights group Adhoc, says. The relocations violated economic, social and economic rights outlined in the International Declaration of Human Rights, the report says.

Urban development when it displaces people and deprives them of jobs, shelter, businesses and access to food, health care and education is misguided, Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told VOA. When pursuing development projects, he said, the government continually fails to provide transparent records or bids for projects and ignores the needs of those already living in the area.

"I support the policy of development," he said, "but I would like to see the government make some studies again in order to solve the problems of the people in this country."

The most recent displacement has been in the Beng Kok district, where many displaced have voiced their grievances. Longtime residents have been moved from the area as long ago as 1989, thanks to a contract between the city and a private company, according to NGO reports.

"I know that development is a good policy, but only if this development serves the people," one Beng Kok resident told VOA, asking not to be named.

Phnom Penh Vice Governor Pa Socheatvong declined to comment on the relocations, saying he was busy with meetings.

SRP legislator Keo Remy said he supports development—when it serves the people. Recent development, he said, has been spoiled by anger and violence, and people were "dumped" outside the city without access to electricity, water, roads and communication. Children were a special concern, he said, as they were pulled from their schools. In some cases, pregnant woman were attacked during forced relocation.

"I think they should compromise on things that we do not agree on, while avoiding violence toward pregnant women," he said. "This is clearly a violation of human rights."

Muth Chantha, a spokesman for the Norodom Randariddh Party, said in every case of government development, no studies on negative impacts on the population or environment are undertaken. This kind of development violates commune law and the constitution, he said.

"Development in the main city and provinces that can promote investment, that can be a place that serves as a sea port or freshwater port or any port, that can have a center for culture or an international center, the government should make a good example of this," he said.

Funcinpec spokesman Nov Sovatharo said developments were a display of prosperity for a country, but development here always attracts protests, so the solution is for the government and its people to come to an understanding.

"The government has a need to develop cities, but the government should know that the people need help from them too, in some ways," he said.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith defended urban development, saying the government always seeks impact studies and takes the people's interests into consideration—but not individuals or small groups. Development leads to factories, jobs and income, he said.

The government does compensate those it moves, he said, and if people disagree, they have the right to protest.