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World Bank eyes lake fight

World Bank eyes lake fight

The World Bank says it is “closely monitoring” resettlement negotiations regarding the capital’s Boeung Kak lake after issuing a warning to the government on the issue earlier this year, though it does not appear to have taken a more active role in the dispute.

In March, the Bank released an internal report on a land titling project it conducted in cooperation with the government from 2002 to 2009 known as the Cambodia Land Management and Administration Project, or LMAP.

The US$28.8 million initiative did succeed in issuing land titles to roughly 1.2 million Cambodians. The bank’s inspection panel concluded, however, that mismanagement and a lack of monitoring during the project had deprived thousands of people at Boeung Kak lake and elsewhere of the opportunity to secure their claims on their land, instead leaving them increasingly vulnerable to forced eviction.

More than 20,000 lakeside residents may ultimately be displaced by a development run jointly by a Chinese company and a ruling party senator, receiving meagre compensation in what will likely be the largest forced relocation in the capital since the Khmer Rouge era.

At the time of the report’s release in March, the bank said a failure by the government to provide for adequate resettlement in the case would have broader consequences for the organisation’s involvement in Cambodia, and that bank staff would report back to the their board of directors on the issue within 60 days.

“If there is [a] continued lack of willingness to cooperate on addressing the [Boeung Kak lake] resettlement issue, management would anticipate reviewing all current and proposed support to the government in the land sector and carefully take into account the government’s position in considering the magnitude and focus of future bank support to Cambodia,” the bank said.

On Monday, with that 60-day period having lapsed, the bank said representatives of the Boeung Kak residents and the municipality “have informed us they are currently negotiating to try and reach an agreement to provide an on-site housing option for the remaining residents”, although no agreement has yet been reached.

“We are encouraging the parties to reach a resolution and in the interim will be closely monitoring the progress of negotiations,” the bank said, adding that the Cambodian government “has told the World Bank it is taking a number of steps to improve resettlement processes more generally in Cambodia”.

Such improvements were hardly evident last month, as police broke up a protest by Boeung Kak residents in violent fashion, arresting 11 people including two children. At the time, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights said the incident illustrated “that the rights to freedom of assembly and expression of ordinary Cambodians [are] secondary to the business operations of the wealthy and well-connected”.

The World Bank is a substantial donor to the Kingdom – now funding projects worth more than $483.5 million –  and rights groups said it could provide much-needed leverage in the ongoing negotiations between lakeside residents and City Hall.

“It is important at this stage that the bank is making it crystal clear to the Cambodian government that there will be no more business as usual until the Boeung Kak issue is resolved in accordance with Cambodia's contractual obligations to the bank and the rights of the residents,” David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said in an email yesterday.

However, the bank’s management noted in response to the report earlier this year that dialogue on these issues  with the government had “deteriorated", and the organisation may face difficulty rekindling such talks.

“The World Bank is not involved in our project to develop the Boeung Kak area and has no power to order us,” Koet Chhe, deputy chief of the city's administration office, said yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA

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