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Gov't Dismisses UN Rights Envoy Remarks

The government Tuesday dismissed as "groundless" and "degrading" remarks from UN special rights envoy Yash Ghai, who wrapped up a 10-day visit Monday.

Ghai, an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government, said in a speech Monday that Cambodians would not live forever under the coercion they were now experiencing, especially in an environment where land was stolen from them with impunity.

"His eyes only see bad stories, but he does not see good stories," said Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak. "He always worries about this issue, that issue. It is bad when you listen. But the truth is not so."

Ghai's comments did not reflect the true nature of the government, he said.

"Those who don't know will believe him," Khieu Sopheak said. "Those who know will not believe him."

Ghai's observations were based on "grudges," he added.

Ghai toured Cambodia and met with dispossessed villagers in rural areas, many of whom have had land allegedly stolen from them by development companies, with the help of government officials and security forces.

The land disputes have led to violence in the provinces and the outskirts of Phnom Penh in recent months, despite a call by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this year for officials to cease the practice.

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha said Ghai's observations had "much truth" to them.

"I met many people. They are afraid of the government, of their immediate decision and seizure of land, to be given to this company, that company," he said. "And there is also fear of the companies directly, that when the people protest with the company, they usually lose the case."

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Ghai's remarks were "100 percent correct" and highlighted an "atmosphere of fear, the use of force [and] intimidation."

Authorities say "if people dare to go against them, they will mistreat them in many ways," Sam Rainsy said. "And they use the court to mistreat those who want justice."