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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

World Bank tells Cambodia to halt evictions, offers help

Published: Wednesday, Mar 9, 2011, 14:27 IST
Place: PHNOM PENH | Agency: Reuters

The World Bank called on the Cambodian government on Wednesday to halt the eviction of another 10,000 people at a controversial real estate development and offered to help those who had lost their homes.

The dispute centres on land around Boeung Kak Lake in the capital, Phnom Penh. Activists say around 2,000 families have already been evicted and forced to accept minimal compensation after the government leased the land to a private developer.

"We are deeply troubled and frustrated about the people who are being forced from their homes," World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in a statement.

He said the World Bank would help those facing eviction and that it had offered the government financing and technical advice.

"We are open to other ways to help these people. We have repeatedly called on the government to end the evictions. We are seeking a positive government response," he added.

Land ownership is a big problem in the Southeast Asian country, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed.

The World Bank had been helping the authorities with land management and administration but the government pulled out of the project in September 2009 because of rows over evictions.

"We call on the government to stop the evictions and to find a way to help the people. Over the last decade Cambodia has experienced high levels of economic growth, leading to increased pressure on land," said Annette Dixon, the World Bank's country director in Cambodia.

The World Bank statement acknowledged that people evicted from around Boeung Kak Lake had been "displaced in violation of the policies the Bank agreed with the government for handling resettlement" and that the Bank had been slow to respond.

A Cambodian government spokesperson declined to comment. An official working on the case said those who had already left the lake area had gone voluntarily and he denied activists' claims that the remaining families had been given a deadline to leave.

"We have accepted residents' request for talks on this on Friday," said Keut Chhe, deputy cabinet chief of Phnom Penh City Hall.

He said he could not comment on whether the government would renew its work on land management with the World Bank.

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