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Land directive criticised

HOUSING rights advocacy groups have criticised a new draft circular about the relocation of the city’s urban poor, saying it openly disregards the land rights of many Phnom Penh residents.

The Draft Circular on the Settlement of Illegal Temporary Buildings in Cities and Urban Areas, made public by the Ministry of Land Management on December 4, will oblige local authorities “to collaborate with relevant ministries/agencies, and be completely responsible for preventing any new illegal temporary buildings in the capital city” and throughout the rest of the country.

It also lays out mechanisms for relocating existing settlements and providing residents with compensation.

In a submission to the Ministry of Land Management, which is hosting a consultation meeting on the circular on Friday, housing rights groups said the use of the phrase “illegal temporary buildings” glosses over the legitimate land claims of many urban poor.

“This suggests that the draft circular automatically assumes that all of Phnom Penh’s urban poor communities are illegal,” the submission stated.

Dan Nicholson, Asia & Pacific programme director for the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, said the circular had positive aspects – including a commitment to greater public participation in issues related to urban poor settlements.

But he expressed fears that the circular would perpetuate past practices that have seen thousands of residents evicted from the city despite their claims to ownership under the Kingdom’s 2001 Land Law.

“The reality is that many urban poor communities in Phnom Penh are anything but illegal and have legitimate claims to the land,” he said.

Nicholson added that the circular’s promises to provide compensation for evicted communities remained vague.

“It’s not clear whether there would be adequate compensation, and there is no indication that the government will provide adequate alternative housing for communities,” he said. A report released by rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut in April found that nearly 120,000 Phnom Penh residents – more than one in 10 – have been displaced or evicted from their homes since 1990.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

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