Land Disputes Subject of Talks With World Bank

The possible renewal of Cam­bodia’s land titling project and its role in the country’s current spate of land disputes were at the center of discussions between the World Bank’s regional vice president and government and NGO representatives last week, according to people present at the meetings.

James Adams, vice president for the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific Region, visited Cambodia on Thursday and Friday, and held meetings with Cabinet Minister Sok An, Finance Minister Keat Chhon and Interior Minister Sar Kheng, along with other government officials and development partners.

“A major focus of the visit was Cam­bodia’s urban land sector and the increasing numbers of disputes and evictions of poor people in ur­ban settlements,” according to a statement issued Saturday by the World Bank.

According to the statement, the meetings included discussion about the Land Management and Administration Program, as well as a review of the project, “which was undertaken in response to questions raised about a possible link between the project and these [land] disputes.”

In an interview last week, Yeng Virak, director of the Community Legal Education Center, said that the LMAP program seems to have avoided areas with potential for dispute over ownership of land.

Mr Virak explained that many Cambodians involved in recent land disputes had strong ownership claims on their property, “however, they did not have opportunity to register because of the rigidity of the [LMAP] program.”

The LMAP project, approved by the World Bank in 2002 with the goal of issuing more than 1 million land titles, is scheduled to wrap up at the end of this year. So far, it has exceeded that goal, handing out about 1.1 million much sought after land titles, according to local World Bank spokesman Bou Saroeun.

Mr Saroeun said yesterday that he could not comment on whether LMAP would be renewed in 2010, or when the bank’s review of the efficacy of the program will be made available.

David Pred, director of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, said yesterday by e-mail that he participated in a meeting with Mr James and NGO representatives on Friday.

Most of that meeting, he said, focused on LMAP and housing rights-particularly the case of the Boeng Kak lake evictions.

According to Mr Pred, Mr James informed the meeting that Boeng Kak residents qualify under the environmental and social safeguards of LMAP, which ensure adequate compensation and protection against involuntary resettlement for residents of land titled to the state.

“This could really be a positive model for development in Cambodia if it were done right and the affected residents were given an opportunity to benefit,” Mr Pred said. “At the moment, they are just being displaced, which will only lead them into deeper poverty and misery.”

Mr Saroeun declined to comment on any of the proceedings of Friday’s meeting.

Mr Pred said that his organization will be releasing a joint report on LMAP with the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions sometime in the next week, and declined to comment on the program until then.

Dan Nicholson, Asia and Pacific Program Coordinator for COHRE, also said yesterday that he would not comment on LMAP until the 80-page report is released.

Bun Rachana, an advisor to the Housing Rights Task Force, said she attended the meeting on Friday.

“It was more like a conference, not a meeting,” she said, explaining that at least 30 NGO workers attended and were given an hour to ask questions to the World Bank Representative.

Ms Rachana said she asked a question about looming evictions at Boeng Kak lake, and whether World Bank representatives were monitoring the case. “[Mr James] spoke very generally. He said it is a very broad policy issue.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that he expected the LMAP program to be approved for another term.

“According to the past, it has been very successful, issuing more than one million land titles.”

He described the meetings between government officials and the World Bank as a “positive sign” for LMAP, and dismissed criticism from housing rights groups.

“The NGOs are NGOs…. They have the right to say anything,” he said.


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