World Bank Calls for Deal At Boeng Kak

But talk of consequences nowhere in statement

The World Bank yesterday backed ongoing negotiations between the government and thousands of families fighting eviction for a CPP senator’s real estate project.

But the Bank stepped back from the tough talk of two months ago, when it warned that it might reconsider aid levels unless the government did more to help families at Boeng Kak lake.

“We are encouraging the parties to reach a resolution and in the interim will be closely monitoring the progress of negotiations,” the Bank’s Phnom Penh office said Monday in a statement to the Board of Directors in Washington.

It was far from the tough words the Bank put out in March, when it released an independent report finding that mistakes the Bank made in rolling out a $24.3 million program helped strip the 4,000 families of their land rights. At the time, Bank President Robert Zoellick himself said he was “troubled and frustrated” by the forced evictions. Country Director Annet­te Dixon implored the government to stop.

But the Bank’s Board of Di­rectors stopped short of taking action then and asked its local staff to report in 60 days on an am­bitious “action plan” laid out to help the families.

But much of the plan depended on cooperation by the government, which has resisted this since unilaterally ending a Bank-sponsored project to issue land titles in 2009 after the Bank pressed it to honor the plan’s human rights safeguards.

Launched in 2002, the Land Management Administration Project was to help the government revive a land titling system wiped out by the Khmer Rouge, which abolished private property in 1975. The project issued more than a million titles on uncontested land but, according to the Bank, actually helped the government deny land tenure to poor communities, such as that at Boeng Kak lake, whose land was sought by the well connected.

In 2007, after cutting the lake out of the project despite the community’s apparently legitimate title claims, the government granted CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin a 99-year lease to develop the area. His Chinese-backed firm has been filling in the lake since 2008.

There has been no sign that the Bank’s appeals to the government have have been heeded. Monday’s statement makes no mention of the action plan announced in march and Bank spokesmen declined to answer questions.

“We’re sticking to the statement,” said Carl Hanlon, a spokesman for the Bank in Washington. “But we’re monitoring the situation very closely.”

The statement did not say if any progress had occurred since the government tentatively promised last month to give land to the 1,000 holdout families around the lake to rebuild their homes or if this would have any consequences for Bank policy.

Some 3,000 families have been thrown out of their lakeside homes, offered payouts well below the believed market rate for their property or, as an alternative, free but remote housing in Dangkao district, far from work and schools.

For the remaining lake residents, City Hall is scheduled to discuss its April offer of on-site housing at a closed-door this morning.

Monday’s statement from the Bank offered little, said David Pred, executive director of Bridged Across Borders Cambodia. But he said the Bank had sent a message.

“It is important at this stage that the Bank is making it crystal clear to the Cambodian government that there will be no more business as usual until the Boeng Kak issue is resolved in accordance with Cambodia’s contractual obligations,” he said. “We will see in the coming days if the government is serious about its verbal commitment.”

Lake residents said yesterday they were optimistic but cautious.

“I still have doubts about this because they [the city] did not give us an official agreement,” said Ly Mom, one of the lakeside residents that have been leading months of protests against their pending evictions. “It will be reality when they stamp the letter.”

“We will believe it when we get it in writing, on paper,” said Kong Chheng, whose concrete home yesterday sat amid a small field of broken bricks, rubble from the razed homes of former neighbors.

“We cannot hope for more because the deal is not official,” Mr Chheng said.

He moved to the lake with wife and children nearly 20 years ago. Now a retired but sturdy 70-year-old, he slowly filed away at the teeth of an old saw.

“I want the World Bank to urge City Hall to give us the land and help us build new homes,” he said. “It is all I want.”

“The World Bank made a mistake,” said Ms Mom. “It has a responsibility to the evicted families and the families that are still here.”


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