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UN spotlights evictions for Habitat Day

Government defends removal of ‘illegal’ families from capital.

THE UN on Monday urged the government to consider the effects of development on the urban poor, while city officials stood by policies that have led to the forced evictions of thousands of Phnom Penh families in recent years, during events held to mark World Habitat Day.

Somethearith Din, programme manager for UN Habitat in Cambodia, said the government should at the very least refrain from relocating evicted families far from the city centre – as it has done to communities such as Dey Krahorm and Group 78.

“The government should construct cheap housing for poor people in Phnom Penh or find companies to invest in communities like Borei Keila,” he said, referring to the HIV community that was evicted to the Tuol Sambo relocation site earlier this year.

If we do not operate like this, they will sell their land to other people....

In response, an official from the municipal Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction said many of the relocated families had been living illegally in the capital, adding that the city had little choice given the influx of migrants from the provinces in recent years.
“The problem we are facing in this city is illegal residents because people are coming from the provinces hoping to find a job here,” said Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, the department’s deputy director.

He added that the families would ultimately profit from their evictions because they would be given land titles after five years.

Somethearith Din said he was aware that the city was facing an influx of migrants as a result of limited economic opportunities in the provinces, but added that City Hall needs to devise policies that respected the rights of families already settled in the capital.

Their comments came at a press conference in Phnom Penh held to mark World Habitat Day, which is observed by the UN every October.

In a statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that urban-planning schemes only work “where there is good governance and where the urban poor are brought into the decisions that affect their lives”.

Earlier in the day, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun, speaking at a separate event, defended the recent evictions, as well as the policy of making families wait five years to receive land titles.

“If we do not operate like this, they will sell their land to other people and come back to live illegally in the city again,” he said.

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