06/14/2010, 00.00
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More than 4,000 families to lose homes in Phnom Penh in favour of developers

A real estate development in a lake in the Cambodian capital would see long-term residents pushed out of their homes. Lake dwellers discover their lack of land title means they cannot oppose the government. NGOs call on foreign donors to put pressure on the authorities to respect residents’ rights.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Tens of thousands of Cambodians will lose their homes without any legal recourse if a mega real estate project goes ahead. Lawyers and activists acting on behalf of residents call on international donors to withhold foreign aid if the Cambodian government does not respect human rights.

The Lake Bœ̆ng Kák project in suburban Phnom Penh is the largest real estate development scheme in the country, covering an area of 133 hectares. If realised, it would require the relocation of 4,000 families living in the area, many of which are palafittes.

Shukaku, a company linked to Lao Meng Khin, a senator with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, is in charge of the project.

Residents do not how to oppose the move since they lack proper title documents, a problem shared by most Cambodians.

Lake dwellers say that during the bloody Khmer Rouge regime, most of Phnom Phen’s population was forced to leave the city. When the regime was ousted, people came back and took over abandoned buildings and vacant land where many of them still live.

Until now, no one had challenged their right to be there. In fact, in 2002, the government launched an ambitious plan called the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP), with the intention of distributing official land titles to otherwise property-less residents. Nearly one million land titles were issued across the country.

When Lake Bœ̆ng Kák applied for their title, the authorities rejected their demand and told them that they were illegally occupying public land. In September 2009, LAMP itself was cancelled.

This case is not unique; elsewhere in the country, many residents are discovering that they lack the title deeds that would enable them to oppose forced seizure.

As a result of this, human rights groups have called on foreign donors to take a stand against this type of action. This year alone, the Cambodian government will receive US$ 1.1 billion in aid, which is essential for the country’s economy. They insist that donors should demand transparency and respect for human rights from Cambodian authorities.

Global Witness, an international anti-corruption watchdog organisation, slammed foreign donors last week for handing out huge sums of aid money “despite evidence of widespread corruption and mismanagement of public funds.”

The government, however, called the accusations part of a "hugely damaging smear campaign" to discredit authorities.

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