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NGOs urge donors to press govt on land fights, forced evictions

INTERNATIONAL donors must pressure the Cambodian government to resolve land disputes, local groups said Tuesday on the eve of a major donor conference.

At a press conference organised by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, said that donors will be guilty of negligence if they overlook disputes affecting thousands of people.

Donors “have spent a lot of money on issues like land reform. But a number of donors still keep quiet,” he said.

So far this year, rights groups have recorded at least 81 new land disputes that could affect more than 1,300 families, he said. These include five high-profile disputes, all of which involve companies claiming farmland occupied by villagers.

In Phnom Penh, roughly 4,000 families stand to be displaced as part of the massive Boeung Kak lake development. Many of the affected families have complained that the World Bank-funded Land Management and Administration Project, which was aimed at creating an “efficient and transparent” national land administration system, severely hurt their chances of obtaining land titles and avoiding eviction.

“We just want to use our rights to get titles to our land,” Huot Mony, a Boeung Kak villager who stands to be affected by the development, said Tuesday.

Local NGOs who work on land issues are preparing to present recommendations to both the government and donors today.

“We hope the government will think about this issue, and we want donor countries to put their money in the right direction,” Chhith Sam Ath said.

Tith Sothea, a member of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said Tuesday that NGOs failed to provide balanced accounts of land disputes.

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