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State responds to World Bank

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A worker dismantles a house earlier this month after the owner agreed to move away from the Boeung Kak lake area.

The Ministry of Land Management has hit back against a World Bank report released this week on a land titling project conducted with the government, claiming the Bank was wrong to suggest that Boeung Kak lakeside residents were unjustly excluded from the programme.

In a report made public on Tuesday, the Bank’s Inspection Panel said flaws in the organisation’s Cambodia Land Management and Administration Project, conducted in cooperation with the government from 2002 to 2009, had led to the “arbitrary exclusion of lands from the titling process”.

The report focused in particular on Boeung Kak Lake, where rights groups say more than 4,000 families have been denied tenure rights and are being evicted from their homes unjustly despite living in an area that was earmarked for the LMAP titling process in 2006.

In a statement today, however, the Ministry of Land Management said LMAP “has never been involved with the Boeung Kak area”.

Under the LMAP agreement, those evicted from state land were to have been subject to resettlement safeguards that included compensation at replacement cost for lost homes and land.

However, the lakeside was never registered as state land by LMAP because it was termed a “disputed” area outside the purview of the project.

Lakeside residents have complained that the compensation they have been offered – US$8,500 in cash or two million riel (US$495) and apartments in Dangkor district – falls far below the value of their homes.

“None of these areas have been registered as a state land [sic] by LMAP,” the Ministry of Land Management said.

“Therefore it is not under the conditions set for social safeguards.”

In 2007, a firm owned by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin signed a lease with the city to develop the lake area.

The following year, the government issued a sub-decree classifying the territory as state private land that could be legally leased to a developer, a move rights groups have called a retroactive attempt to provide legitimacy to the transaction.

The World Bank’s Inspection Panel found that LMAP had not given residents at the lakeside and elsewhere the chance to contest government claims of ownership of their land.

“Management’s supervision of the Project for several years overlooked the critical issue of adjudicating private claims on land claimed by the State.

This failure of Management, in the Panel’s view, contributed to the events in the [Boeung Kak] area and the harm that [residents] are facing,” the report said.

David Pred, executive director of the rights group Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said the government’s characterisation of the Boeung Kak area as disputed land was disingenuous.

“They can’t on the one hand say it’s disputed, so it’s not subject to land titling, and then at the same time claim that it’s state land and then lease it,” he said.

“The state is a party to the dispute, and the state has never given the people who it is in dispute with the opportunity to have a fair hearing to contest their claims.

That was what LMAP was supposed to do, but the process was manipulated.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA

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