Phnom Penh City Hall defended its controversial record on relocations Feb 29, telling an Amnesty International researcher that its treatment of villagers evicted from the capital has been humane, legal and enlightened.
In a hastily convened meeting held at the request of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Deputy Municipal Governor Mann Chhoeun spoke for over an hour about how officials had successfully moved 1,200 families from Sambok Chap, also known as Village 14, in 2006.
The meeting was the government’s second official rebuttal of Amnesty’s Feb 11 report on forced evictions, in which the organization said that as many 150,000 people may be facing forcible or illegal eviction.
The Foreign Ministry strongly denied last month that any evictions have occurred in Cambodia.
With a slideshow describing the process of removing homes and residents from Sambok Chap, Mann Chhoeun said Phnom Penh had taken pains to make relocation sites in Dangkao district’s Trapeang Krasang and Kok Roka communes livable.
“When we provide solutions for 1,245 families, this is a win-win solution because the people get the land,” he said. “The landlords win because they can receive the land they are entitled to,” he said.
“We follow international standards. We have the land, roads, water supply, schools, hospitals and markets and they have jobs to do. We provide them microcredit,” he added.
“Although this is not a perfect solution, people can live there happily,” he continued.
“Please believe that in poor countries or rich countries, if you live on the other people’s land, the land owners will not agree,” Mann Chhoeun said.
Small cardboard mockup models of the houses being constructed for evictees were displayed on a meeting room table during the discussion.
Amnesty International Researcher Brittis Edman told Mann Chhoeun she was gladdened to hear that municipal authorities were seeking to improve conditions at the relocation sites.
The Amnesty report, titled “Rights Razed: forced evictions in Cambodia,” said families had been forcibly transferred to distant unhygienic plots. As the evictions proceeded, authorities became increasingly menacing and violent, according to the report.
Edman said the meeting on Feb 29 had been the chance to hear the city’s priorities.
“On many points we disagree on the descriptions of realities but what I found particularly encouraging was that the deputy governor found pride in some of the things we think are important, such as urgent improvements at the relocation sites,” she said following the meeting.
But, regardless of conditions at relocation sites, many evictees are given no choice about whether to accept the terms offered them when facing removal from their land, she added.
“They are most of the time presented with a fait accompli.”