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Groups Continue Opposition of Seizure Law

Rights and housing advocates on Wednesday continued to rail against a new law on imminent domain that they say will make it easier for people to lose their land.

The Law on Expropriations passed through the National Assembly on Tuesday, allowing for authorities to move people from their land in the name of national development, such as the construction of an airport or the widening of a road.

The bill had the support of 76 lawmakers from the Cambodian People’s Party and was opposed by members of the opposition Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties.

“When the law on expropriation is enforced, it will allow the government and the authorities, in the capital and in the provinces, the full ability to easily expropriate real estate of citizens, under a pretext for the sake of fundamental infrastructure,” Ny Chakrya, lead investigator for the rights group Adhoc, told reporters in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia’s poor have faced increasing pressure, from both legitimate authorities and unscrupulous officials and businessmen, in recent years, as the country experienced a boom in land prices. Some people have been evicted by the government or had their land taken, creating a source of unease for many and, critics warn, potential unrest.

“There was the confiscation before the draft law passed without reasonable compensation,” said Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party. “And because of this law, the government will have more ability to confiscate the land of citizens.”

However, Ouk Rabun, secretary of state for the Ministry of Economy and Finance, who defended the bill in the National Assembly this week, said the law was suffering from “negative interpretations.”

“In this case, the government will do the expropriation,” he said. “We must distinguish between legal expropriation and violence and abuse” in land disputes.

The law, which has eight chapters and 39 articles, allows the state to seize land for development in the national interest. That can mean for ports, power structures or an energy network, but it can also mean for security or national sovereignty.

Opponents of the law say it is not clear enough and could allow the government to evict people from their land before a case has been arbitrated. They also warn the law makes no provision for fair market values; instead, compensation will rely on a decision by a national committee.

Ny Chakrya said rights and housing groups sent recommendations for the law to the National Assembly and the government, but they were not heeded.

Cheam Yiep, a CPP lawmaker, said some of the recommendations may find their way into subdecrees when the law is promulgated.