The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has formally denied Amnesty International’s recent allegations that the Cambodian government is involved in the unlawful and forcible evictions of thousands of people.
Amnesty’s Southeast Asia researcher Brittis Edman arrived in Cambodia last week to launch a new report calling for a moratorium on forced evictions, which the group claims currently threaten 150,000 people in Cambodia.
The Foreign Ministry’s statement Wednesday responded by expressing “regret” over Amnesty’s attempt to “grab headlines” in the international media.
The ministry statement, which was also broadcast on television and radio, singled out an article by The Associated Press printed Monday’s edition of the International Herald Tribune as an attempt by Amnesty International to “manipulate facts, exaggerate the situation and invent reality in Cambodia.”
The ministry maintained that “there is absolutely no ‘unlawful and forcible evictions’ in Cambodia,” though it concedes that it has been necessary, on occasion, for the government to “re-establish public and social order” where people were “illegally occupying state land,” at which times “authorities had always given advance notice with a spirit of great tolerance.”
In response, Edman on Thursday said Amnesty has neither manipulated facts nor invented reality.
“The accusations that we are doing so are an affront on the Cambodians we have talked with who have been forcibly evicted or at risk,” she said, adding that the ministry’s statement was also encouraging to some extent.
“They’re not ignoring us,” she said.
Multiple evictions have been executed by police and armed forces in the last year, some of which have become violent. Villagers in the April 2007 eviction in Sihanoukville’s Mittapheap district reported having been beaten by authorities.
Foreign Affairs Ministry director of information and documentation Chin Bunthoeun said “authorities were just preventing violence” in the case of alleged violent evictions.
“We don’t recognize that there were forced evictions…. We have given the land at the new location to them. We have informed in advance [about evictions],” he said.
Edman said that a forced eviction—defined in the Amnesty report as the involuntary removal of villagers from their homes or land without the provision of appropriate forms of protection—does not need to be violent in order to be unlawful.
“People have been cut off from legal redress…. Their resettlement packages have been inadequate,” she said, adding that she hopes the government will stop forced evictions until they have suitable legal measures in place that are in accordance with international law.
The Foreign Ministry statement also highlighted a high-profile government land concession policy to provide 10,000 landless families with plots of land in the coming year, but relevant officials could not be reached Thursday to comment on what if any progress had been made toward that goal.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Meas Kimseng, a coordinator at local housing rights NGO Sakhum Teang Tnaut, said the government has been practicing forced evictions since around 1993, which has lead to the relocation of nearly 16,000 evicted families to sites on Phnom Penh’s outskirts.
“We can say there are more now,” Meas Kimseng said when asked about the pace of evictions. But, he added, the government has shifted to more subtle tactics of persuasion and that evictions by private companies rather than the state are increasingly a major issue.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)