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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Land grabbing threatens social stability - UN

Land grabbing threatens social stability - UN

Land grabbing threatens social stability - UN

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Ongoing land confiscation by military and government officials is creating an

underclass that threatens Cambodia's still fragile peace and stability, warns

Peter Leuprecht, Special Representative of the Cambodian Office of the UN High

Commissioner for Human Rights.

UN Special Representative Peter Leuprecht

Leuprecht, who on June 28 ended his third

investigative trip to Cambodia since his appointment in October 2000, said that

land confiscation and demobilization will be the focus of his forthcoming second

report for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Cambodia's human rights

situation.

"If this country can't settle these problems - the practice of

land grabbing - there is serious potential for social unrest because these

[landless peasants] have nothing to lose," Leuprecht told the Post in a June 28

interview. "It's always dangerous to have people in a society who have nothing

to lose."

Human rights organizations have documented multiple incidents

in recent years in which farmers have had their land forcibly confiscated by the

Cambodian military. The confiscated land is routinely sold for development and

the peasants left homeless, landless, and often destitute on the streets of

Phnom Penh.

To get a first-hand look at the problem of land-grabbing,

Leuprecht made a two-day trip to Banteay Meanchey province's border town of

Poipet, whose numerous casinos have reportedly been built on land confiscated

from peasant farmers.

"What you see in Poipet is the development of a

wild and brutal capitalism," Leuprecht said of the human rights situation in and

around the border town. "These casinos are very often built on land which poor

people have been evicted from."

While briefing Prime Minister Hun Sen on

the problem of land-grabbing, Leuprecht said Hun Sen admitted that he was aware

of the involvement of government officials in illegal land

confiscation.

"I added that the military was also involved," Leuprecht

said.

According to Leuprecht, ending land-grabbing required addressing

what he called "the four evils afflicting Cambodian society - poverty, violence,

corruption and lawlessness".

Leuprecht emphasisied that donors shared his

analysis of those "evils" and expected results in return for the record $615

million in aid awarded Cambodia at the June 11-13 Tokyo CG meeting.

"The

donor community has been quite generous and the [Cambodian] government has

gotten more than it expected," Leuprecht said, adding that one of the main

recommendations of his first UN report was that foreign aid to Cambodia be

increased. " But on the other hand, it's very clear that donor governments want

to see results. I think donor countries will judge by results and in the long

term won't be helpful if promises of reform are unfulfilled."

While a

long-delayed memorandum extending the mandate of the COHCHR was not signed

during Leuprecht's visit, he praised the government for its "mature" response to

his first report and by what he described as a "very constructive" meeting with

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Hun Sen announced that he was "too busy" to meet with

Leuprecht during his last visit in February.

"Maybe [the government]

recognizes that although I'm critical I'm objective and I don't hide at all my

relationship with donors so [improved relations with the Cambodian government]

may be a result of political realism," Leuprecht said.

"Part of COHCHR's

role has been that of a watchdog, not a lapdog, and watchdogs aren't always

liked by those they watch."

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