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Carter opens bid to house region’s poor

FORMER US president Jimmy Carter launched a campaign Monday in which thousands of volunteers will build homes for the poor in five nations along the Mekong River, a humanitarian group said.

The volunteers for Habitat for Humanity will build or repair 166 homes in Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam on the November 15-20 tour, the Atlanta-based Christian group said.

“Over the years, I have seen the lasting impact Habitat for Humanity volunteers can have, and I have been personally touched by the work they are doing around the world,” the 85-year-old Carter was quoted as saying in a statement.

In Cambodia, Habitat plans to build 21 houses in Kandal province’s Oudong district for families relocating from the Stung Meanchey dumpsite in the capital.

Ngin Lyda, a communications assistant for Habitat, said Monday that the organisation had arranged for 300 local and international volunteers to work on the five-day project. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, are scheduled to visit the site on November 21 to meet the families and volunteers who built the houses. Deputy Prime Minister Sok An is also expected to be present for the one-hour site visit.

The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) issued a statement Monday expressing its hope that Carter’s scheduled visit to Kandal province would “raise international awareness of ongoing eviction practices in Cambodia”.

The statement decries what it describes as a recent increase in land-grabbing and forced evictions, adding that rural landlessness has climbed from 13 percent in 1997 to 20-25 percent in 2007.

CCHR President Ou Virak said he hoped Carter’s visit would send “a message to the government that the world is paying attention to shelter and housing” issues.

“No matter how many houses you can build, unless those properties are protected and the right to private property is protected, it’s a losing battle,” he said.

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