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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ...while the lucky get to stay

...while the lucky get to stay

The threat of imminent forcible eviction of 3,300 residents of squatter communities

along the Bassac River between the Naga Casino and the Monivong Bridge area of Phnom

Penh has been lifted by Governor Chea Sophara.

Sophara's announcement marks a reversal of a policy of forcible eviction of squatters

that began with the controversial Oct 23, 1999 eviction of hundreds of residents

of ethnic Vietnamese houseboat communities in the city's Meanchay district.

Sophara told the Post on Feb 4 that a new policy of gradual, voluntary relocation

of squatter residents has been instituted with the assistance of COUNHCHR, UNHCS

and various NGOs.

The new policy comes not a moment too soon for residents of three squatter communities

near the Monivong Bridge who'd originally been given a Feb 22 deadline to move or

be evicted.

"Those people can stay ... we will negotiate with them the details of their

relocation, but it will only be done on a fully voluntary basis," Sophara explained.

"We are looking for donors to fund the purchase of land for these people and

after we find a good place, people who volunteer [to move] will be relocated section

by section."

According to Sophara, the relocation process was an open-ended one that could take

"ten or twenty years, depending on government capacity."

Approximately 500 families from the Bassac area have already been relocated to land

acquired through the joint UN/NGO plan and funded by the British government and other

foreign donors.

Sophara described the distinct dual purpose of the new relocation plan.

"Our objective is to get [squatters] out of poverty, to build new houses for

them and to provide for their children's education by sending their children to school,"

he said. "The land they live on will be returned to the public for leisure use

... perhaps a golf course."

However, Sophara's stipulation that eligibility for the new relocation program hinged

on proof of Cambodian citizenship raises doubts about the future of large numbers

of ethnic Vietnamese who inhabit the squatter areas.

Proof of citizenship criteria devised by Sophara included both official registration

at the commune and district level in tandem with a more informal survey of neighbors

of residents whose citizenship is considered doubtful.

"Let the people decide," Sophara explained. "The people who live around

[families whose citizenship is in doubt] should agree [as to their citizenship] ...

if we allow officials to decide on the commune and district level, maybe corruption

will result."

A spokesperson for a local human rights organization that has been involved in drafting

the new relocation plan welcomed Sophara's decision to abandon forcible evictions

of squatters.

"If it's done in the manner he's described, it should be okay, but it's important

that district authorities be made aware of the new policy not to continue evictions,"

the spokesperson said.



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