In a series of speeches over the last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly
warned high-ranking members of his own administration to stop land grabbing. But
experts say institutional paralysis and local-level corruption continue to
condemn thousands of Cambodian citizens to landless lives in limbo.
Storm clouds gather over the Andong relocation site, 22km from Phnom Penh.
all types of cases, from the very large to the very small, land disputes are not
being solved," said Eang Chhai Eang, vice president of the National Land Dispute
Authority (NLDA) and Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) parliamentarian. "The situation has
not improved at all this year. It makes me question whether I should
Hun Sen has spoken of the dangers of a "farmers revolution" if
land grabbing continues unabated. But few have heeded his warning, said An Sam
Ath, senior human rights monitor at local rights group Licadho.
three high-ranking CPP officials have offered their illegally grabbed land
back," he said. "Hundreds of others keep their land and so the disputes
Hun Sen's "war" on land grabbing is not purely rhetorical,
said one Western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.
Minister has a clear political instinct for danger to him or his party," said
the diplomat. "He is far more aware than some members of the government that the
land issue could really turn the population against him."
the land issue's volatility has not resulted in effective mechanisms to resolve
disputes, said Chhai Eang. A year after NLDA was established, the National
Assembly has still not passed the necessary laws to give the body the legal
authority it needs to resolve land disputes.
Consequently, NLDA has been
unable to do anything to ease the plight of the Kingdom's many land-dispute
victims, such as the hundreds of families who were forcibly evicted from Phnom
Penh's Sambok Chab area nearly one year ago, said Chhai Eang.
Penh municipality "put pressure on the people" to get them off the land quickly,
said Chhai Eang. The results of the haste are apparent. Most former Sambok Chab
residents are still squatting at the Andong relocation site, 22 km from Phnom
Penh. They are waiting for the plots of land, and basic infrastructure they were
promised a year ago.
The mishandling of the negotiation and relocation
process by local authorities is the biggest problem with evictions in Cambodia,
said Noun Sokchea, attorney for the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC).
"At Sambok Chab, the local authorities should have surveyed the
community better," she said. "They moved too fast, and now this makes problems
But the local authority's priority is not to protect the
quality of life of communities set for eviction, said Chhai Eang,
just sell the land for investment," he said.
At 2 am on June 6, 2006,
former Sambok Chab resident, Dou Vanthy, 36, noticed several hundred military
police had surrounded the area.
"At 6 am they told us to get into
trucks," she said. "We had less than an hour to pack our things. They didn't
tell us where we were going. They didn't tell us anything. They threw us away
Licadho's Sam Ath said the confusion and disorder that
surrounds many forced evictions is the result of local authorities seeking to
profit from the situation.
"When it is known there will be a relocation,
the number of people in the area grows," he said. "The local authorities are
accepting bribes to allow people into the community so they can try and benefit
from any compensation packages offered."
Vanthy, who has now been living
at Andong for nearly a year, no longer holds much hope of receiving a plot of
land. She said she has watched the population at the relocation site grow as the
"There was a lot of corruption involved in
allocating the plots of land," she said. "The village leaders have many plots of
land, but we have nothing."
As Vanthy waits for her plot of land, living
conditions continue to deteriorate. Recent tests conducted by the Pasteur
Insitute on the drinking water at Andong found it contained human and animal
"The water is clearly contaminated," said Dr Kruy Sun Lay, a
director at Pasteur.
Sor Sareth, 54, a resident at Andong, said the
water, even when boiled, had given her and her four children stomach problems.
"I am afraid of the water here," she said. "And we still have to pay for
it - 200 riel for a bucket of water which has come from the local pond. But I
can't even earn 100 riel a day here."
Despite Hun Sen's warnings, the
government has done little to prevent the local-level corruption that caused
such major problems in previous evictions, said Phann Sithan, secretariat
officer of the Housing Rights Task Force.
At Boeng Kak, which looks set
to be the next large-scale eviction in Phnom Penh, the local authorities are
subtly permitting new arrivals, said Sithan.
"It costs $450 to buy the
materials for a new house and $60 to purchase a family book saying you live in
the area," said Sithan. "People are moving building material into the area at
night and putting up new homes, hoping they will then be able to receive
compensation when the site is evicted."
As they did at Sambok Chab, local
authorities are preventing NGOs from conducting surveys in the Boeng Kak area
that could be critical to ensuring fair and just compensation for the genuine
residents affected by the planned development, said David Pred, country director
of Bridges Across Borders (BAB).
"It is very important to gather reliable
information about the affected population as a pre-requisite for ensuring that
the [relocation] project moves forward in a legal manner, free from conflict,
and respectful of human rights," he said.