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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mass resettlement for squatters

Mass resettlement for squatters

THE municipal government plans to resettle more than 10,000 squatters in Phnom Penh

over the next five years as part of a development scheme to transform the city with

new roads, public housing and improved infrastructure.

Advisors at the city's planning department said the government intends to resettle

at least 100 squatter sites, involving anywhere between 50 to 4,000 families at each

site, every year starting in 2003. A UN settlement agency, UN-HABITAT, estimates

that at least 230,000 squatters live in Phnom Penh.

Chhay Rithisen, director of the city's Bureau of Urban Affairs, said the development

effort, part of a master plan being drafted, is one of the city's highest priorities.

He said the development includes two highways encircling the city to ease traffic

congestion and major new flood-control works. The major donors for the projects will

be the Japanese aid agency JICA, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

But the actual price tag of the city's ambitions is purely speculative, said Willy

Zannermann, who works on development projects with GTZ, the German aid agency, at

the Ministry of Land Management. He said the government's current financial straits

meant any project would be at least 80 percent donor-funded. That must change for

it to be successful, he said.

"It has to come from the private sector," Zannermann said. Any influx of

new development would require major financial and banking reforms, as well as a change

in the investment climate. "That's not in place yet," he said.

Rithisen said development efforts will not repeat mistakes of the past.

"We would not like to relocate people to [distant] sites, especially in suburban

areas," said Rithisen. "This is a new policy of the city.... We will implement

social land concessions. Land sharing also is one component of this policy."

The resettlement arrangements are designed to allow destitute families to remain

on land where they already live. Social land concessions would transfer plots of

vacant land to urban poor while other land could be divided between squatters and

private development. The move would give permanent legal status to residents.

This departs from previous efforts to move squatter communities-often to sites far

from Phnom Penh-which failed due to a lack of planning, job opportunities and basic

infrastructure.

The first three sites to be resettled, and possibly developed, will be Boray Kaila,

a complex near the Olympic Stadium built in the 1960s, the dilapidated apartment

buildings called Dai Krohom near the Russian Embassy and shantytowns along the railroad

tracks in Toul Kork district, Rithisen said. Although no specific proposals exist

for the areas, advisors to the project said public housing could be built on the

sites to make room for private development.

Anne Burlat, a French urban planning specialist with the city, said Phnom Penh had

reached a pivotal moment in its growth. Whether the capital evolved into a sprawling,

unsustainable city or a more functional, efficient urban area depended on the political

will to implement a master plan.

"[The focus] is not on reconstruction, it's development," Burlat said on

October 16 at the opening of an exhibit about Phnom Penh's development during the

last decade. The exhibit will be open at the Design Center next to Wat Phnom until

October 31.

Burlat said an integrated vision of the city's future is needed soon. She said the

population of Phnom Penh was expected to grow to almost three million people by 2020.

The city already has a population of 1.2 million people, almost half of whom live

on the outskirts of the city.

The crush of new residents could restrict Phnom Penh's ability to cope with problems

in the future and overwhelm the city's planning efforts.

"The bigger the city gets, the more difficult it will be to control the evolution

of the city," she said.

Ultimately, Burlat said, answers to Phnom Penh's problems are not confined within

its borders. As long as poor flee from poverty in the countryside, the capital faces

a chronic crisis.

"To solve the problem in the long term, we need a national policy to develop

the rest of the country," she said.

* Additional reporting by Matt Fox

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