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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Development Leaves Cambodians Homeless

Development Leaves Cambodians Homeless

June 25, 2008
By Gaffar Peang-Meth (guampdn.com)

My June 11 column referenced The Guardian's Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark's "Country for Sale," which stated that "almost half of Cambodia has been sold to foreign speculators in the past 18 months." It also referred to Business Week's Susan Postlewaite's "Real Estate Boom in Cambodia's capital," in which she observed this boom "has led to widespread evictions of people" from their homes and land to accommodate development projects.

If you Google "land-grabbing in Cambodia" you'll see volumes written on the topic, from newspaper articles to columns and reports by human rights groups. Watch videos and listen to the voices of Cambodian evictees, even on YouTube.

They reveal how the poor, the underprivileged in Cambodia suffer unspeakable pain and hardship. After all, what's life anywhere when a person's home and land are dismantled and bulldozed without discussion, and one is beaten and kicked and faces jail for not moving out?

Radio Free Asia's "China's Growing Presence in Cambodia," published on its Web site May 28, takes the issue of land-grabbing to a higher level, alleging high officials' involvement. The Web site also recorded 29 land-grabbing cases in January and February alone.

Amnesty International's "Forced Evictions in Cambodia: Homes Razed, Lives in Ruins," published Feb. 11, states "forced evictions are one of the most widespread human rights violations affecting Cambodians in both rural and urban areas." It asserts, "At least 150,000 Cambodians across the country are known to live at risk of being forcibly evicted in the wake of land disputes, land grabbing and development projects."

"In sharp contrast to the rhetoric of the (Cambodian) government's pro-poor policies and in breach of international human rights laws and standards," the Amnesty International article states, "thousands of people, particularly those living in poverty, have been forcibly evicted from their homes and lands."

On June 12, a Hong Kong-based regional non-governmental organization that monitors and lobbies human rights issues in Asia, The Asian Human Rights Commission, posted an online petition, "End Land Grabbing in Cambodia," and urges "the public to join" the petition, which can be read at http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/landgrabbing.

The online petition is addressed to Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen. It expresses signers' deep concerns "about the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Cambodian people who have been, and who are known to live in fear of being evicted as a result of development projects, land disputes and land-grabbing." It asks the premier to "immediately end the suffering and fears ... by halting all evictions, ... and by suspending all land concessions for development projects that affect people's homes and lands."

I don't know if the petition will move the 55-year-old Cambodian ruler to comply, nor do I know if it will incite the world community to help the Cambodian poor and end the land-grabbing.

Action needed

I used to recite to my students at the University of Guam Edmund Burke's words: "All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." And I write often in this space that unless one takes action, one cannot expect anything to happen the way one wishes. I have discussed the problem of "free riders" who expected "others" to act for the common good.

So I added my name on the AHRC petition, and my computer screen showed that it was sent electronically to the prime minister's cabinet.

Six days before the AHRC's petition, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho) put online, complete with photos, "Two Years After their Eviction from the Center of Phnom Penh, Villagers are Still Living in Squalor." It was about the June 6, 2006, eviction of more than 1,000 families from their homes in Sambok Chap village in inner-city Phnom Penh by "police and military police armed with guns, tear gas, batons and riot shields."

"The residents were forced onto trucks and taken to be dumped in an open field at Andong, 22 kilometers from central Phnom Penh -- their new 'home'," reads the text. "There was no shelter, electricity, running water, schools, health services or readily available employment nearby."

June 6, 2008, marked the two-year anniversary of the eviction.

"The site of their former homes in Sambok Chap -- slated for commercial development by a private company -- remains bare and unused, while the evictees continue to live in squalor at the Andong relocation site," Licadho stated.

Licadho refers to Sambok Chap as "just one case in a wider pattern of rapid, unregulated and often illegal development across Cambodia. ... It is exacerbated by a culture of corruption and impunity and, all too often, by an international donor community which turns a blind eye to such abuses."

Yet, in less than four weeks this international donor community can be expected to congratulate the region's longest-serving premier for his forthcoming July 27 election victory, to continue his reign, which Agence France Presse says he vowed publicly to keep until he turns 90.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at peangmeth@yahoo.com.

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