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Inspection Faults World Bank Program in Lake Evictions

Phnom Penh city workers demolish wooden houses in Boeung Kak lake as a man in the water collects his belongings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jan. 14, 2011.
Phnom Penh city workers demolish wooden houses in Boeung Kak lake as a man in the water collects his belongings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jan. 14, 2011.

A World Bank interior investigation has found that the organization’s Cambodia office failed to protect the land ownership of residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake area ahead of thousands of evictions.

World Bank executives in Washington will now decide what actions to take after an inspection panel found that a $24-million land titling project did not follow Bank policies and failed to provide land ownership to the lake residents ahead of a massive development deal.

The Cambodia Land Management Administration Project was meant to provide titling to many of the country’s landless, following chaotic post-war land administration. It ended when the government cut its financing in 2009.

NGOs acting on behalf of the Boeung Kak residents complained to the Bank, saying their land rights had not been protected under the program. Following an internal investigation, the Bank said it found failures in the project.

“These failures contributed to the forced eviction of some 4,250 families living around Phnom Penh’s iconic Boeung Kak Lake,” the Bank said in a statement Tuesday. “Residents were unfairly denied the right to register their land ownership shortly before the government leased the area to a private developer and began a campaign of intimidation and pressure to force families living in the area to leave.”

Families who have remained in their homes near the lake have appealed to the developer, Shukaku Erdos Hongjun, and the city to allow them to stay. They say a buyout offer of $8,500 is too low and they do not want to move to an inferior relocation site.

Some families have left, after floodwater from the filled lake inundated their homes.

Sok Penh Vuth, deputy governor of Daun Penh district, where the development site is located, denied the government had undertaken any forced evictions.

“I think that the reports do not think of all sides,” he said. “We did not forcibly evict them. We have peacefully made compromises with the people.”

Tun Sopheany, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Land Management, criticized the findings, which noted differences between the government and the World Bank over land titling.

“In my view, this report is to protect the honor of the World Bank,” she said.

Tep Vanny, a lake community leader, said the World Bank should now push the government “to respect the human rights of residents affected by the Boeung Kak lake development project.”

“We are facing imminent eviction and daily human rights abuses, and we need immediate intervention,” she said.

Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, a coalition of organizations, said in a statement the inspection demonstrated “a genuine commitment to truth, rule of law and accountability, which are too often denied to the Cambodian people.”

“We now look to the World Bank Board to do everything in its power to uphold these basic principles and finally bring a measure of justice to those being illegally evicted from their homes,” she said.

The Bank said in its statement Tuesday it would now seek “high-level engagement” with the government and development partners “to support affected communities that responds to their development and livelihood needs.”

The Cambodian office will report back to the board with a plan within 60 days, the Bank said.