Sambok Chap, Dey Krahom, Boeung Kak ... the list keeps growing and we all scratch our heads. Resettlement and even eviction are an unavoidable part of the development process, but the critical question, of course, is how it should take place. In 1999 the Municipality of Phnom Penh was a central figure in the pioneering resettlement of 129 families from an area near the Chinese Embassy. Government officials, community members, the United Nations and NGOs all sat round the table as equal partners and over a period of 18 months all families were successfully resettled.
It was a great upheaval for the families and not all were happy to move, but the process provided them with a reasonable basis for starting anew and most importantly left a general sense of mutual respect and understanding between the actors involved. The three core figures in this process were His Excellency Mann Chhoeun (former Vice Governor of the MPP), Men Chamnan (leader of the community) and Mike Slingsby (Chief Technical Advisor to UNCHS). So why has it all gone so wrong when equitable resettlement has already occurred in Cambodia? There is simply no excuse for the current dire situation which is not only deeply damaging, but totally avoidable. Cambodia has ample aid money, yet the resettlement process remains jammed in reverse gear, consigning thousands of Cambodia’s most vulnerable families to deepening poverty and degrading treatment. Are the donor institutions and bilateral agencies asleep at the wheel? No, not at all. Quite the opposite.
All are very much awake, but walking the diplomatic tightrope between sustaining a presence in Cambodia and trying to push for action. More worryingly, some institutions actually tend to regard organisations that are highlighting the situation as “unprofessional troublemakers” and “inciters of unrest”. While electing to overlook the lamentable situation of Cambodia’s displaced, these institutions continue to pour millions of dollars of “aid” into the country, largely now to parts that do not face these resettlement “complications”.
The doctor carefully and proudly healing the patient’s foot while ignoring the sores on its arms – blindly hoping that somehow if the bandage is big enough it will compensate for the spreading sores? The plain truth is that from Washington to Manila, from Berlin to Tokyo, donors need to band together and insist on some concrete action on resettlement if, as they claim, they are truly concerned about poverty reduction. Surely US$600 million per year could negotiate this small concession to common sense?
Adviser/Sahmakum Teang Tnaut