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Lake Residents Granted Bloc of Development Land

A man stands at a destroyed house at Boeung Kak lake in Phnom Penh August 16, 2011. Cambodia, under pressure by the World Bank, said on Tuesday it had set aside prime land in the capital Phnom Penh for thousands of people forcibly evicted from their homes

Thousands of Boeung Kak lake residents who have been fighting a protracted battle with Phnom Penh and a development company have seen their fortunes reversed and have been granted a small plot of land on which to resettle.

Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a subdecree Aug. 11, giving 1,000 families still living near the lake approximately 12 hectares of land on the planned 133-hectare development site.

The order came just days after the World Bank said it would withhold funding to Cambodia if a resolution over the dispute were not found.

World Bank officials, lake residents and rights monitors all welcomed the decision, which prevented thousands from being evicted from land they had fought to keep.

Annette Dixon, the World Bank’s Cambodia country director, said in an email that Hun Sen’s decision “appears to be a positive development, and we hope that it will lead to a good outcome for the residents of Boeung Kak.”

The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions said the order was the beginning of the end of a five-year battle, “all but ending fears of evictions for the remaining residents.”

Residents had continually appealed to the city and national government, to no avail, often clashing with police or authorities in violent protests but stubbornly remaining on land they said they were entitled to hold under Cambodian land policies.

They had refused buyout or resettlement offers from the developer, Shukaku, Inc., which began filling the lake with sand in 2008, flooding the neighborhood with overflow.

Tep Vanny, a representative of the residents, said they were “proud” of their struggle, and were happy with Hun Sen’s “win-win strategy.”

But not everyone was convinced the new order would mean security.

Keh Chan Reksmey, 31, said she was still afraid rich or powerful people would be able to take her land through forgery or fraud.

Another resident, Pov Sophear, 36, said she wanted Hun Sen, the World Bank, donors and NGOs to monitor the land handover, to ensure it was fair and transparent.

Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, a rights group, urged local authorities to “implement this sub-decree with care and respect.”

The lake residents have provided a “good model for other communities,” he said. “And our society can now make developments without tears and blood.”