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Land Evictions Reaching Tragic Proportions: Activist

Sia Phearum, executive-director of ​Housing Rights Task Force in Cambodia on "Hello VOA" Thursday.
Sia Phearum, executive-director of ​Housing Rights Task Force in Cambodia on "Hello VOA" Thursday.

Government officials must take more action to prevent forced eviction, with more and more families ending up in inferior relocation sites and a high number of children dropping out of school as a result, a housing advocate said Thursday.

Sia Phearum, executive director of the Housing Rights Task Force, told “Hello VOA” people are being forced off land they earned through “backbreaking” work, and that promises made by politicians during the 2008 national election are going unfulfilled.

“If we continue tragedies like the issues of Borei Keila or Dey Krahorm, we will receive sin or remorse,” he said. “You as the authority, the government, from the vote of the people, you haven’t fulfilled your own task to solve the problem for them.”

He suggested clearer policies for proper compensation and fairness for people evicted under development projects, who often face difficulties once they leave their home neighborhoods for inferior sites outside the city.

As many as one in five children drop out of school after forced evictions, he said. Evictees go “from landowners to being servants,” he said. “That’s the direct impact for them, and that’s why we are seeing protests, like closed national roads, almost every month.”

Neth Ratana, a representative of villagers from Snuol district, Kratie province, where a rubber plantation is displacing hundreds of families, said she wants the government to find ways to share land.

Sorn Touch, a Borei Keila evictee who appeared on an earlier “Hello VOA,” said Thursday that officials have since threatened to sue her for defamation. “Now they want to imprison me,” she said.

Another Borei Keila evictee, Khan Malin, said at the relocation site, she must pay around $0.08 to use the toilet and $0.11 to take a shower. “When I don’t have the money, I just wash my feet and take my children to bed.”

Both women say they worry about their safety at night.

Sia Phearum said his group and other NGOs are not opposed to the government, but the tradeoffs for concessions and development are not worth it.

The nation’s leaders should take responsibility for the problem and not blame their subordinates, and they should not disappoint those who elected them, he said.

“The people who voted for these leaders need to think, too,” he said. “Because there is no rule of law, these companies associated with powerful leaders in the country are always forcing people out of their residences and arresting people and detaining those who dare to protest. The authorities were not voted in by the companies. They were seen as capable, and people voted for them to serve them, so they should serve the people.”