The World Bank yesterday welcomed a government decision to offer on-site relocation to residents of Boeung Kak lake, following the international body’s move to suspend all funding to Cambodia over the issue.
Country director for World Bank, Annette Dixon, said yesterday the move to award 12.44 hectares of land to families set to be evicted to make way for a Phnom Penh housing development “appears to be a positive development and we hope that it will lead to a good outcome for the residents of Boeung Kak Lake”. She declined to confirm whether the bank would now release the suspended funds.
Despite wide-spread speculation that pressure from the international body led to the decision, government spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that, though lessons had been learned from the “challenging” dispute, the outcome had absolutely nothing to do with the World Bank.
“It was an independent decision from City Hall free from outside pressure,” he said.
But Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said such claims were a government attempt to protect its image.
“They don’t want to lose honour,” he said, adding that the land grant was a step towards the bank resuming funding to the Kingdom.
The land offer, nevertheless, has been seen as a major development in the long-running dispute.
A press statement from the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions released yesterday said that a sub-decree which set out the offer signaled the “beginning of the end” of a long battle that had seen a cycle of evictions, protests and violence.
“It is likely the result of a number of factors including ongoing negotiations amongst the Municipality of Phnom Penh, community people, the World Bank, development partners and civil society,” it said.
Two groups of villagers at the site – who have for years protested over the issue – are now considering how to divide the land and intend to negotiate with the government to find a solution that suits all.
Sia Phearum said that he favoured a plan proposed by the larger of the two Boeung Kak community groups in which the land would be divided equally amongst everyone into 4 by 16 metre plots, which would allow all families to build on the ground floor and enable them to sell goods.
Most of the families at Boeung Kak yesterday said they were overjoyed that the dispute with ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin’s company Shukaku Inc had moved forward.
In a statement released yesterday, representatives of 756 families said the decision “proves the wise leadership” of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
But others expressed dismay that they had sold their houses to the developer just days before.
A home owner, who declined to be named, said yesterday she had nothing to celebrate because she sold her house to Shukaku Inc three days ago for $25,000 and would not now be eligible to relocate.
“I sold my house and land to the Shukaku company two days before the premier Hun Sen decided to cut the land in this area to provide for the people in Boeung Kak lake.”
Shukaku was granted a 99-year lease at Boeung Kak in 2007 allowing them to fill in the lake to construct real estate developments on the reclaimed land and in surrounding areas, a project which Chinese firm Erdos Hong Jun Investment Company later took a 51-percent stake in.
Boeung Kak deal: Reaction
Interviews and photos by Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Derek Stout
Sam Vichith, 36, from Village 20, in Srah Chak commune
I think that Hun Sen has decided to give 12.44 hectares of land to us right now to appease the World Bank because they released a statement threatening to stop all funding for development projects in our country.
They need to make sure that the families who originally had bigger plots get two or three flats and the families who had smaller plots only receive one flat.
Noun Samuth, 40, from Village 23, in Srah Chak commune
We are so grateful after the premier’s decision to provide us with the land. We know that his decision was made after the World Bank decided to stop their funding on all development projects in Cambodia, but this does not mean that he did this to appease the World Bank. He pitied his people and wanted to help them out of poverty.
Tep Chanthon, 45, from Village 1, in Srah Chak commune
I am not sure if Hun Sen was trying to satisfy the World Bank. I just understand that he was trying to give land to me and other people who were affected by the Boeung Kak development project. This is the reason that we voted for him before and we continue to support him as the prime minister.
Sin Samath, 55, from Village 21,
in Srah Chak commune
My children, my husband and I have worried about being evicted from our home with only a small compensation. We always thought we would not have enough money to build a new home. But now, Premier Hun Sen has given hope to my family and others in the area. We will remain thankful and pay him back during the next national election.
Ly Nary, 39, from Village 1,
in Srah Chak commune
I was very excited after I heard that Premier Hun Sen provided us with land in the Boeung Kak lake area. I hope that the necessary ministries and departments as well as the municipal authority will create the land titles and deliver them to us quickly. I thank the premier and his family and hope they remain healthy and prosperous.