World Bank Rejects Meeting With Land Evictees

The World Bank has turned down a suggestion that it hold a meeting somewhere outside of Cambodia exclusively with families that have been forcibly evicted from their land before it decides whether to lift a current freeze on new lending to the country.

The Bank announced the freeze in August 2011 in response to the government’s refusal to issue land titles to families living in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak community, from which some 3,000 families—most of the neighborhood—were eventually evicted to make way for CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin’s real estate project.

The Bank is currently considering a new project in Cambodia that would effectively bring the freeze to an end and has announced plans to hold 11 meetings around the country with seven “key stakeholder groups.” But none of the groups includes the evictees themselves, the very group over whom the lending freeze was imposed.

In a February 3 letter to the Bank, U.S. lawyer Morton Sklar, working with local rights groups, asks it to schedule an additional meeting with evictees outside Cambodia so that they would feel free to speak their minds without fear of government intimidation.

In a February 20 reply obtained this week, World Bank country manager Alassane Sow tells Mr. Sklar that the Bank would be sticking to its original plans.

“All consultations will be held in Cambodia and meetings will be held with listed stakeholders as set forth in the consultation plan,” Mr. Sow says.

The reply provides no explanation for the Bank’s decision. Asked for one, World Bank country spokesman Bou Saroeun said Mr. Sow’s letter “speaks for itself.”

Reacting to the reply, Mr. Sklar said the Bank’s decision not to arrange a meeting with evictees was “a very perplexing and disturbing result.”

“[T]he World Bank’s own Inspection Panel report that served as the basis for the loan ban being imposed in 2011 listed the systemic land eviction problem as the main reason why the World Bank should not give additional support to the Cambodian government until reforms were made in the land eviction policies,” Mr. Sklar said.

Last year, the Bank said the meetings would start in late 2014 or early 2015, but it has yet to schedule a single one.

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