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Housing Activist in Washington To Push for Cambodian Policy Reforms

Land Activist Looks to International Community on Chronic Land Disputes
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WASHINGTON DC - Cambodian housing rights activist Tep Vanny is in Washington this week, seeking to increase international pressure on Cambodian authorities to end forced evictions and find resolutions to longstanding land disputes.

Tep Vanny, a housewife who has emerged as a leader for Cambodian victims of forced evictions, will meet with World Bank officials and others as she seeks to change Cambodia’s development policies.

She told VOA Khmer in an interview last week that a crackdown on a group of hunger strikers by young men in plainclothes was done under “collaboration among authorities, top to bottom.”

The Sept. 22 violence disrupted a hunger strike and ceremony at Wat Phnom held in support of opposition calls for democratic changes.

The hunger strike was being undertaken by 14 residents from two Phnom Penh neighborhoods that have seen widespread forced evictions and resettlement far from the capital.

The hunger strikers were attacked by young men who wielded crude clubs of wood and metal, along with slingshots and marbles, according to witnesses.

Tep Vanny said responsibility for the violence fell to Phnom Penh military police, municipal police and authorities from Daun Penh district.

She called the violence an attempt “to assassinate women from [the neighborhoods of] Boeung Kak lake and Borei Keila.”

“It was not just to disperse and chase us home, but to assassinate us and rob us of our belongings,” she said.

She is in Washington to urge the World Bank to “find a solution for those who are still residing in Boeung Kak and those who have already left,” she said.

An internal review at the World Bank in 2011 showed the bank’s local Phnom Penh office had not done enough to protect land of people living in Boeung Kak, which could have prevented at least some of the current disputes. The bank subsequently froze funding to Cambodia.

“What we really want the World Bank to do is help end the dispute in Boeung Kak through immediate negotiation with the government, because we can hardly continue to live in the current situation,” she said. “Nowadays, due to our protests, the government sees us as their enemy and keeps making attempts on our lives, which really worries us.”