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Govt OKs guide to resettlement

THE Council of Ministers has approved a series of new guidelines covering the resettlement of urban communities, despite concerns from housing rights advocates that they will do little to help vulnerable residents in the capital.

The Circular on the Settlement of Illegal Temporary Buildings in Cities and Urban Areas, approved by the council Friday, orders local authorities to identify illegal settlements and includes mechanisms for relocating residents and providing them with compensation.

“The government has issued this directive to inform authorities at all levels and the relevant institutions about the procedure for solving problems where temporary buildings are encroaching illegally on state land,” the Council of Ministers said in a statement after its meeting Friday.

The new version of the circular has not yet been made public, but housing rights advocates have expressed concerns about a draft version distributed in December. In a submission to the Ministry of Land Management, housing rights groups said the use of the phrase “illegal temporary buildings” ignore the legitimate land claims of many urban poor.

“The government has forced people to leave and to accept compensation. They confiscate land from them and hand over to the rich and to companies which provide people very little,” said Chan Soveth, an investigator for rights group Adhoc.

But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the intention of the circular is to “assist people and the government to eliminate disordered settlements in public places” and to ensure that sufficient compensation is paid.

“Even though they have built their houses and other things on the road, we still have a policy to compensate them according to what the law stipulates,” he said.

Pen Sithan, a legal officer at the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), said the new guidelines are not in themselves bad, but that their effect will depend on whether they are implemented with the involvement of NGOs and affected communities.

“It’s up to the government to engage other parties,” he said.

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