Home > Local News > Cambodia: Thousands of poor people lose their homes to real estate development and plantation farming

Cambodia: Thousands of poor people lose their homes to real estate development and plantation farming

In today’s Cambodia, the authorities favour large-scale urban
development and sugar and rubber plantations. Companies are granted
long-term leases to land taken from poor urban dwellers or farmers.
Since 2009, more than 27,000 people have been evicted but public
protest is being organised.

Phnom Penh – Lake Boeung Kak
residents have abandoned their wooden homes because water levels in the
lake have risen, covering everything in mud. What was once a delightful
tourist attraction has now become a sea of unwholesome mud.
Until recently, Lake Boeung Kak was one of the few
remaining open spaces near Phnom Penh. It was home to some 4,000
families, living in small wooden houses, but the government ignored
them when it granted a 99-year lease to Shukaku Inc, a private
developer considered close to the ruling party.
The area, some 130 hectares, will be turned into
residential and office space and shopping malls. Current residents will
receive compensation packages estimated between US$ 1,500 and US$
8,500, an amount so low, that most residents have refused to accept. In
the meantime, the lake waters are rising.
“Shukaku Inc is forcibly evicting lakeside residents
by pumping sand and mud into their homes,” said Rolando Modina,
regional director of the international pressure group Centre on Housing
Rights and Evictions.
“The message that is being sent to the remaining
residents at the lake is that they should accept the compensation being
offered to them or else their houses, too, will be buried in mud,” said
David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, a
non-governmental organisation.
The net result is that everyone is leaving, many not
knowing where to go, especially since the money offered is so small to
find a new place to live. About a thousand families are left; they are
the poorest, uncertain as to what to do.
Land disputes are a major problem in Cambodia, as
they often are in China. Last year alone, at least 26 cases of mass
evictions displaced about 27,000 people across the country, according
to a United Nations report released in September.
The communist Khmer Rouge abolished land ownership
during its 1975-1979 rule; many legal documents were lost during that
time and in the years of civil war that followed.
As land around the main cities becomes scarce, what
is left is attractive to developers to build new residential complexes
and modern shopping centres.
“Forced evictions are being driven by rapid
speculative investment in the Cambodian real estate market, coupled
with endemic corruption and the absence of the rule of law,” Pred said.
“The urban poor are being driven from their homes in Phnom Penh, which
is becoming an exclusive domain of the wealthy.”
The capital is indeed undergoing heavy development
after projects stalled during the global financial crisis two years
ago. Last year, the government passed a law giving itself the power to
seize private property for public development projects.
At the same time, what is happening in and near the
cities is happening in the countryside as well. Farmland seized by the
authorities is granted to big sugar and rubber companies.
Under Cambodian law, a person who has lived in any one place unchallenged for five years or more has rights to that land.
Most Lake Kak dwellers began living on or near the
lake in the 1980s. In recent months, they have staged dozens of
demonstrations, which have been quickly dispersed by police.
Sok Sambath, the governor of the Phnom Penh’s Daunh
Penh district, which includes the lake, described the development as “a
good thing” for the area and said residents had to accept compensation.
Until recently, the eastern edge of Lake Boeung Kak
was a popular tourist stretch, with many guesthouses and bars lining
the shore. The lake now resembles a large sand dune and has lost its
allure. Tourists are staying away and hotels are closing.
The local economy has been completely turned upside down to profit real estate development.

Source: Asia News

Categories: Local News
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