A senior government official yesterday expressed “regret” over the forced eviction and relocation of thousands of Phnom Penh residents in recent years, attributing problems to a lack of awareness in resolving government policy.
Speaking at a workshop in Phnom Penh yesterday, Im Chhun Lim, the Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said that though the removal and relocation of residents’ homes was commonplace in developing countries, it was important that the government takes action based on the proper policies.
He said much confusion stemmed from residents who are living illegally on state land, but who claim ownership and market-price compensation for their properties.
“It is regrettable that [we] were not previously sufficiently aware of how to resolve issues such as the confusion between resettlement based on humanitarian policies and the resettlement based on market price compensation or unreasonably high compensation demands that could not be accommodated,” he said.
Im Chhun Lim added that some relocation cases were complicated by the involvement of politicians, which delayed compensation negotiations or caused standoffs between residents and the authorities. Often, the disputes did not end until the government took “administrative measures”, forcibly removing residents from disputed land.
He stressed that the government wanted to avoid these problems at all costs, and would implement a “humanitarian” policy related to urban evictions and relocations.
Rights groups claim that thousands of families have been illegally evicted from valuable land in the centre of Phnom Penh and relocated to sites of the outskirts that often lack all but the most basic amenities.
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said that from 1990 to 2010, 130,000 Phnom Penh residents – nearly one in 10 of the city’s residents – have been the victims of urban land grabs.
“The evacuation of people from the capital to the suburbs affects their standard of living. This forces them to lock their homes [in the suburbs] and come back to the capital to look for jobs to support themselves,” Sia Phearum said.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor of local rights group Licadho, said the evacuation of residents from the city to ill-equipped relocation sites on the outskirts seriously affected such communities.
“The regret [expressed by Im Chhun Lim] is justified, but the victims are citizens. The authorities should have thought about the welfare of people first before simply evacuating them,” he said.