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Activists hold a ceremony during a protest for better land rights protection at Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake
Activists hold a ceremony during a protest for better land rights protection at Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake yesterday. Hong Menea

Land activists pan UN speech

Land rights activists gathered in Phnom Penh yesterday to protest against comments made by Cambodia’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council Mak Sambath during last week’s review of the country’s human rights record in Geneva.

More than 100 representatives of communities in Boeung Kak, Borei Keila, Thmor Kol and other areas where there have been disputes with authorities, gathered yesterday morning at the home of prominent Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny.

Protesters waved flags and lit incense as they prepared an altar to burn with a sign that read “Thank you, Mak Sambath.”

Vanny kicked off the protest by playing a recording of Sambath’s speech to the UN Human Rights Council from January 28, when Cambodia underwent its Universal Periodic Review.

In the speech, Sambath claimed that if displaced people had lived on state-owned land they would be provided with fair compensation and a relocation site close to their original homes.

“The state offers them lands in different places, money, and prepares the infrastructure for them,” Sambath said in the speech. He went on to claim that in the case of Boeung Kak, about 1,000 people were falsely trying to claim recompense.

“It is a difficult task. Originally, there were only 500 people [at the site], but when the measurement [of land for compensation] took place, the number increased … up to 1,500 people, and we did not know why the number increased so quickly,” he said. “We need the real data … who are the real people and who are pretending?”

In a statement read at the protest, the activists questioned Sambath’s account of the compensation process.

“This shows the corruption, weakness and inability of the authorities … the government just pays lip service in solving the disputes,” the statement said.

Sar Sorn, 57, from the Borei Keila community, said yesterday that Sambath’s address was “a lie to the UN”.

“Please, Sambath, will you visit the displaced families at Phnom Bath whether we have roads, water, electricity, health centres and schools like you said? We are discarded there,” she said.

Sambath declined to comment on the issue yesterday, adding only that “It’s their right to speak.”

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