04/08/2011, 00.00
CAMBODIA – CHINA
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Phnom Penh: thousands of people displaced by booming Chinese investments

Some 150,000 people are expected to be evicted this year. Each week, families are in the streets to protest, without success. The government focuses on trade with Beijing, which does not demand political reforms or improvements in human rights. Sources tell AsiaNews that politicians speculate on land, interested only in the economy.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – The boom of Chinese investments in Cambodia promises to transform the national economy and improve the lives of millions of poor. However, behind the slogans, which the government is fond of repeating, there is the tragedy of farming families thrown off their land for paltry compensation to give way to luxury housing estates and more. Sources in Phnom Penh told AsiaNews that “farmland is being seized and transformed across the country” after it was “bought by politicians on the cheap and resold at much higher prices to companies and developers.”  

Just around Boeng Kak Lake, in Phnom Penh, more than 2,600 families have been evicted from their homes. Of these, about 1,500 refused the offer of US$ 8,500 in compensation, plus a flat, by the authorities.

The South China Morning Post has reported that families are protesting in the streets every week, only to meet a wall of silence. Some analysts warn that “the government could one day have a rebellion on its hands”.

China's Inner Mongolia Erdos Hongjun Investment Corp wants to invest US$ 3 billion in property development, metal processing and power generation. It is one of the many projects planned by Chinese companies in Cambodia.

China, which is Cambodia's biggest source of foreign direct investment (FDI), is expected to spend US$ 8 billion in 360 projects in the first seven months of this year.

Human rights activists and donor counties have threatened to withhold aid if steps are not taken in favour of the population.

According to Housing Rights Task Force, a Cambodian group monitoring forced evictions, 30,000 people were moved off their land last year, up from 27,000 in 2009. An estimated 150,000 more evictions are expected this year, 70-80,000 in Phnom Penh alone.

However, threats from activists or Western nations do not worry the government, which has opted for Chinese investments without strings attached, like human rights or democratic reforms.

Trade with China climbed 42.1 per cent in 2010 to US.12 billion. In exchange, Cambodia showed its unwavering support for China in December 2009 by defying international pressure and deporting 20 Muslim Uyghurs who sought asylum after fleeing ethnic violence in China. Two days later, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping visited Phnom Penh and signed 14 trade deals.

Sources in Phnom Penh told AsiaNews that “entire areas of the country once covered in water are being drained and expropriated from farmers. This is happening to thousands of people.”

The problem is that there are “no official land registers”. In the past, a lot of farmland “was taken over without authorisation”. Only in the last two years has the land registry started to map out land ownership.

At the same time, “politicians have been buying up hectares of land”, the source said, and are now into speculation, selling them to companies and developers.

“The country’s economy is expanding and economics, more than social and cultural factors, are fuelling its engine.” (DS)

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