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Evictions, NGO Law High Among Donor Concerns

Children sit on top their inundated homes, where Shukaku, Inc., has been pumping fill into Boeung Kak lake, (File photo).
Children sit on top their inundated homes, where Shukaku, Inc., has been pumping fill into Boeung Kak lake, (File photo).

Cambodia’s donors on Wednesday raised a chorus of concern for forced evictions and a controversial law to regulate NGOs, as they met with government partners to discuss upcoming aid packages.

The groups met in Phnom Penh to discuss development plans, foreign aid pledges and Cambodia’s development needs for 2012. Donors pledged more than a billion dollars in aid to Cambodia last year.

Qimiao Fan, country manager for the World Bank here, said in statement that land issues, epitomized by the forced eviction of thousands of urban poor from a development area in Phnom Penh, continued to vex Cambodia.

“With rapid urbanization, the resumption of fast economic growth and the increasing interest from investors in large-scale commercial farming, land issues will become only more challenging, as exemplified in Boeung Kak lake area,” he said.

The World Bank found fault with its Cambodia operations earlier this year after a Bank program failed to issue land titles to residents of Boeung Kak ahead of a massive development scheme undertaken by the city.

Fan acknowledged that progress had been made in some government land titling programs, but he said the government should establish resettlement policies that follow the law and fairly award resettlement costs to residents caught in such developments.

Donors also remain worried about an impending law to regulate the NGO sector that critics say is unnecessary and potentially harmful to development.

“Development partners would be interested in discussing the possible impact of the draft NGO law on the delivery of development assistance in the country,” Fan said.

Flynn Fuller, USAID’s Cambodia director, said the agency “remains concerned about the necessity of the draft NGO law and the related implications for civil society organizations to operate freely in Cambodia.”

USAID has partnerships with more than 100 local organizations, he said in remarks at Wednesday’s meeting. “An excessively restrictive NGO law will hinder the ability of these partnerships to support achievement of critical development objectives in Cambodia,” he said.

UK Ambassador Andrew Mace urged the government to reconsider the law altogether, echoing requests from international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who have come out against the law.

Local groups continue to push for further consultation on the law, rather than having it scrapped.

Lon Borithy, executive director of the Cooperation Committee of Cambodia, a conglomerate of local NGOs, said Wednesday that the Ministry of Interior, which is drafting the law, needs to discuss it further before forwarding it to the Council of Ministers for approval.

Minister of Economy Keat Chhon said in the meeting that not all NGOs agree on the draft law, but said he would bring their “concerns” to the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“I completely believe in the leadership of [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng in making the draft NGO law,” he said.

He said the particular case of the Boeung Kak villagers was being resolved by City Hall.

The rights group Adhoc recorded nearly 200 land disputes last year and 24 forced evictions. The groups lead investigator, Ny Chakriya, said Wednesday that donors had raised the right concerns at the meeting.