Officials at the World Bank, which in 2011 froze new loans to Cambodia amid a furore surrounding the Boeung Kak lake evictions, have approved preliminary proposals to issue funding for a project that could see families forcibly removed in Kampong Thom province.
Under the World Bank’s Land Allocation for Social and Economic Development II (LASED II) project, $25 million would be given to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.
The proposed project would give additional funding to 14 social land concessions (SLCs) bankrolled by the Japan Social Development Fund and the World Bank since 2008. It would also create a new SLC in Kampong Thom’s Doung commune near the heavily logged Boeung Per Wildlife Sanctuary.
The bank has not yet assessed whether there are indigenous people living on the site but indicated in a recently published document that locals would need to make way for planned construction if the project is approved by the bank’s board of directors.
“The new infrastructure investments might need some land taking,” the project’s safeguards assessment reads under a section titled 'Involuntary Resettlement', adding that a relocation plan would be drawn up by the Land Ministry.
Where feasible, the appraisal notes, “the project will also support infrastructure provision where benefits might not exclusively occur to land recipients only”.
In September, the Post reported that the project, if approved, would be the first scheme directly funded by the bank since it suspended loans over three years ago.
Loans were stopped over the bank’s support for a land-titling program that sparked outrage when Boeung Kak lake residents were forcibly evicted to make way for a concession granted to ruling Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin.
A World Bank spokesman declined to comment on the project on Monday, referring to a brief statement that referenced ongoing “consultations” about “re-engagement”.
Peter Leonard, regional safeguards adviser for the World Bank, one of two officials who approved the assessment, declined to comment, referring questions to other bank officials who did not respond to emailed questions.
The bank has continued to directly fund projects in Cambodia approved before December 2010 and has committed to administering $67 million in loans and grants from “trust funds” this year, only $3 million less than the year the moratorium was put into place.
Sareth Boramy, director of the LASED II project, denied that involuntary resettlement would take place in Doung commune, which has been plagued by land grabs in the past.
“We have identified a location but have not made a detailed identification yet. Any existing occupancy of the land will be respected in accordance with the law,” he said.
Nhem Sarat, provincial monitor for rights group Adhoc, said he was unaware of the World Bank’s plans for Doung commune, which Boramy said were “just in the preparation stage”.
But Sarat questioned whether the project would overlap with a Khmer Rouge-era dam where he said the authorities were eager to evict villagers in order to invest in the area.
“Most villagers in Doung commune in Prasat Balang district are affected by the dam. They are living in the dam area, which was built under Pol Pot’s regime and the authorities want them to move in order to develop the dam,” he said.
Tim Forsyth, an international development expert at the London School of Economics, said there was “a long history of criticism about the World Bank and its ability to implement points of principle that it says it will adhere to”.
Activists want the bank to adhere to prior and informed consent as a principle of infrastructure development, he added.
“But the [bank] naturally enough does not want to do this and so engages in other references to consultation that ultimately seek local views but do not necessarily implement what local views say,” he said.