Saturday, 21 March 2009

Selling the Killing Fields

New Statesman

Kate Allen
Published 20 March 2009

A few minutes to leave your home before it’s bulldozed: a reality for thousands in Cambodia reports Amnesty UK's Kate Allen

To be woken in the middle of the night and given minutes to gather basic essentials before your home is bulldozed is surely the stuff of nightmares. But as Unreported World on Channel 4 tonight (Friday 20 March) will show, this is the reality for thousands of Cambodians.

The programme ‘Cambodia: Selling the Killing Fields’ focuses on the people of Dey Kraham – a slum district in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. It shows the residents there being first thrown onto the streets by security forces and hired demolition workers, and then left to watch as their homes are turned into dust by wave after wave of bulldozers.

The experience of Dey Kraham is not a one off. Forced eviction – the removal of people against their will from the homes or land they occupy, without adequate notice, consultation, due process and assurance of adequate alternative accommodation – is the reality for thousands of Cambodians.

In 2008 alone, Amnesty International received reports of at least 27 forced evictions affecting over 20,000 people in Cambodia, most of them marginalised groups already living in poverty. And about another 150,000 Cambodians are still living under the threat of the same treatment in the midst of land disputes and agro-industrial and urban redevelopment projects.

But the blight of forced evictions is not unique to Cambodia. Millions of people around the world – in Angola, Kenya, Guatemala and dozens of other countries - are living under the threat of being forcibly evicted.

Instead of protecting their populations against this gross human rights violation, governments are seen to be directly or indirectly involved in demolishing homes and destroying communities, leaving the people, who are already surviving on very little, destitute and homeless.

Often, forced evictions are carried out at the behest of corporations that have built a close relationship with the local authorities – a relationship that allows them to commit such abuses without being held accountable. Sadly, forced evictions happen without much international furore.

Amnesty International has worked tirelessly for several years with governments, multinationals and global bodies to show the benefits of adopting a human rights approach to business. Progress has already been made in some areas; for example companies from Unilever to Sony and from Nokia to GlaxoSmithKline now have a human rights dimension in their codes of conducts.

Meanwhile, here, the UK Government passed the Corporate Manslaughter Act. This was as a result of concern that companies were not being held to account for their negligence, even when this resulted in injuries and deaths.

If this important step can be taken in the UK, then the same principle could be applied across the globe. The international community – both businesses and governments – needs to address the issue of forced evictions head on.

The business world needs to open its eyes to the communities it operates in and acknowledge its responsibilities to uphold fundamental human rights.

Amnesty and others are calling for strong regulation both nationally and internationally to ensure incidents like the destruction of Dey Kraham are not allowed to be repeated.

Right now we are calling on the Cambodian government to end forced evictions, and to ensure that all those made homeless have access to at least minimum essential shelter, clean water, sanitation, health services and education, including through the provision of humanitarian assistance where necessary.

Kate Allen is Director of Amnesty International UK

Reproductive Health Group In Cambodia Reports Increase In HIV Testing Among Women

Medical News Today (press release)

Main Category: HIV / AIDS
Also Included In:
Women's Health / Gynecology; Sexual Health / STDs
Article Date: 20 Mar 2009

report released on Monday by the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia found that 40,587 women in the country underwent HIV tests in 2008 -- up from 38,660 who were tested in 2007 -- the Phnom Penh Post reports. Blood tests are offered at no-cost at state and referral hospitals across Cambodia, the Post reports. RHAC said the increase in testing was in part because of an increase in reproductive health awareness campaigns.

Mean Chivoan -- director of the National Centre for HIV and AIDS, Dermatology and STD -- said that the government has distributed information about HIV/AIDS tests since 2001, giving information to community groups and garment factories. He said that the government will continue to promote tests among women -- particularly pregnant women -- because it believes such efforts are "important." Cheat Khemara, senior labor official at the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said the increase in testing among women is a reflection of a partnership between community groups and garment factories -- where about 300,000 Cambodian women are employed. He called on "all factories to help provide health facilities and services" at no-cost to employees and to "provide care to employees who have HIV/AIDS so that they have the mental strength to continue their work." Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Cambodia, reported that most garment factory workers are required to have a health check at the Labor Health Centre. He added, "Usually, women who work for factories do not understand the importance of having blood tests. They only go if they are helped or guided by NGO workers."

Chak Chenda, clinic manager at RHAC, said that the group is planning to publish a "guide book and leaflets on reproductive health to be distributed in communities and also organize a peer group education program" to bring trained volunteers to discuss reproductive health in communities (Leakhana, Phnom Penh Post, 3/18).

Reprinted with kind permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

It's a gender, human rights issue

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tong Soprach
Friday, 20 March 2009

Dear Editor,

Regarding to the article "Ministry bans obscene songs to save traditions" [The Phnom Penh Post, March 18], I strongly agree with the Ministry of Culture's ban on obscene songs. I think this is a good start for the ministry to take measures against obscenity in Cambodian society. However, verbal and physical sexual harassment appears regularly in comedy and on television.

When I watched these performances, I felt scared, shocked and ashamed as a human being. This kind of comedy gives nothing of educational value to children and youths.

If the government still ignores these performances, it will increase verbal and physical sexual abuse and harassment against girls and women. The government should gather comedians to provide training on human rights and sexual harassments.

Tong Soprach
Phnom Penh

Ministry should review all songs before release

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Socheata
Friday, 20 March 2009

Dear Editor,

I strongly support the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in banning rude or obscene songs ["Ministry bans 'obscene' songs to save traditions", in the March 18 edition of The Phnom Penh Post].

As I have observed, many Cambodians prefer to use foul language as a typical way of joking to entertain themselves and people around them. With that, some artists and comedians have intended to compose songs and jokes in an obscene way because they know people like those words and often imitate them for fun. One of the songs to be banned was composed by this comedian and has been heard at ceremonies and resung by many at weddings. Sometimes, he even relates his composed stories with obscenities to some Buddhism practices as a joke, which is unacceptable religiously and culturally.

Finally, I strongly urge those artists and comedians to be responsible for their own acts and act appropriately to contribute to the society in a positive way. I also recommend that all songs and comedies be reviewed by the ministry before being released for the public. Being Cambodians, we should be doing well enough to protect our own cultural identity.

Phnom Penh

Cambodia's Coming Oil Wealth Will Likely Entrench Ruling Cabal In Corruption

Global Post Patrick Winn March 18, 2009

BANGKOK - Haunted by war, and wracked by poverty, Cambodia has had little opportunity to enjoy one its few blessings.

The nation of 14 million people, sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam, is flush with natural resources. Veins of iron and gold run beneath its soil. Natural forests offer a wealth of timber. Most promising of all are Cambodia's deposits of oil and gas, believed to snake offshore all the way through the kingdom's lush interior.

As Cambodia's leaders begin to parlay these natural blessings into wealth, selling off drilling rights to firms across the globe, American oil companies are taking notice.
So, too, are the watchdogs.

Foreign aid, in large part from U.S. tax dollars, accounts for half of Cambodia's national budget. Much of this is aimed at the more than one-third of Cambodians living on roughly 50 cents per day.

While Cambodia's ruling party could use the coming resource wealth to wean the country off foreign aid -- and potentially lift millions out of poverty -- leaders already appear to be hording this money for themselves, watchdogs say.

According to Global Witness -- the U.K.-based non-profit that helped expose the West African "blood diamonds" trade -- the coming oil wealth will likely just entrench Cambodia's ruling cabal in corruption.

"In a couple of years, the elites will be so wealthy it will be hard to rewind the tape," said Global Witness Director Gavin Hayman during a business trip in Bangkok. The non-profit recently published an investigative report on Cambodia's growing oil wealth.

According to International Monetary Fund forecasts, Cambodia's annual oil revenue should begin at about $174 million in 2011 and climb to $1.7 billion by 2021 -- and plunge thereafter as resources are sucked dry.

This oil future has grabbed the attention of the global oil industry.

Just this past weekend, U.S. oil industry representatives invited Cambodian energy leaders to observe drilling operations near the Gulf of Mexico, home to dozens of major offshore oil rigs.

"Cambodia is on the verge of an oil and minerals windfall," said Eleanor Nichol, a Global Witness campaigner. "The stakes are very, very high."

A global fuel chase has led many foreign firms to cut deals with Cambodia's ruling party.
They've since carved the nation into 20-odd oil-and-gas districts that will be developed.

Most firms with Cambodian oil concessions are Chinese, some with little experience in the energy sector. Various South Korean, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern companies round out the concession holders.

But the best-known energy firm with Cambodian drilling rights is the California-based Chevron Corporation.

Chevron is preparing as many as nine wells for what it calls a "complex reservoir" off Cambodia's coast. The firm is now "working closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia to complete the fiscal and legal framework that will be required for the development of petroleum resources in Cambodia," said Gareth Johnstone, Chevron's Asia-Pacific media director.

Chevron is a high-profile member of the Extracative Industries Transparency Initiative -- an anti-corruption movement devoted to "full publication and verification of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas and mining."

No allegations of corrupton have been made against the company, though the oil giant has come under pressure from watchdog groups to be more transparent in its dealings here.
Chevron will not reveal its payments to Cambodia nor its start-up drilling dates, said Johnstone, who is based in Singapore.

Cambodia is rated the world's 18th most-corrupt country by Transparency International, which publishes the world's leading corruption measure. Chevron also operates in Burma, run by an oppressive military junta.

When resource-rich areas are ready for excavation, Cambodia's government is suspected of dispatching soldiers and police to forcibly remove residents. According to Human Rights Watch, armed government militants have torched homes and pushed out hundreds of families. Once excavation begins, soldiers are believed to stand watch over the sites as international firms do their work.

Global Witness' work in Cambodia has brought death threats and a promise from one senior official to hit investigators "until their heads are broken," Nichol said.

Repeated inquiries to the Cambodia's National Petroleum Authority were ignored. With no explanation, some emails to the entity's listed addresses were automatically routed to Petroleum Geo-Services, a Norwegian firm specializing in finding oil and gas reserves.

Cambodia's U.K. ambassador, Hor Nambora, issued one of Cambodia's more public rebuttals to corruption claims. "It is naive for Global Witness to imagine that Cambodia's international donors are not fully aware of the way the Royal Cambodian Government's (sic) conducts its affairs," Nambora wrote in a release.

His response included an odd, mocking parody of a Global Witness document called "Rubbish Report by Global Witness." It features an image of a comically upright baby sea lion saying, "I shall not tolerate such rubbish. Good day, sir."

Last year, Cambodia absorbed roughly $1 billion in foreign aid. Even as major donors acknowledge Cambodia's corruption, money continues to pour in.

In 2008, U.S. Agency for International Development offered $54,994,000 to Cambodia in various programs targeted at health, education, human rights and more. The agency, in a corruption assessment, expressed frustration that "donor resources are being wasted and diverted."

Many Cambodian bureaucrats, the USAID report stated, are "masters of spin" and "... most reform efforts have had limited impact on a persistent, less-than-scrupulous opponent."

Many donors decide that, even if aid is filtered through corrupt bureaucrats, pulling back funding will only deprive the poor, Hayman said. And further, Western powers and their donation arms now worry that strained relations will push Cambodia dangerously close to China.

Still, analysts say the Cambodian government craves something China can't offer -- legitimacy in the Western world. American aid, and ties to giant firms like Chevron, supply much of this esteem.

The Western world, however, can only use this leverage for so long. Once Cambodia's rulers hit the oil-and-gas jackpot, Hayman said, they'll be too rich to reign in.

"They'll have so much money from oil and mining," he said, "that they'll be untouchable."

Thai foreign minister under attack

Anti-government protestors are seen at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, on December 2

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand's foreign minister was forced during a censure debate Friday to defend himself against angry opposition attacks over his role in the protests that shut Bangkok's airports last year.

Kasit Piromya is accused of supporting the ten-day airport siege in November-December by members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that cost the kingdom 8.3 billion dollars and tarnished its tourist-friendly image.

The 64-year-old reportedly said the blockade, the culmination of a four-month street campaign to rid former premier Thaksin Shinawatra's allies from government, was "a lot of fun".

But Kasit played down his role in the protests.

"I am not a core member of the PAD and neither have I taken part in their planning. I was invited to speak as academic," Kasit said, referring to a speech he made at the airport protest site.

"I joined the PAD movement in good faith in order to achieve true democracy, a better society in Thailand and to oppose Thaksin's system," he said.

A stream of opposition lawmakers addressed parliament during the second day of debate ahead of a planned vote of no confidence on Saturday aimed at toppling the three-month-old government.

The censure motion accuses premier Abhisit Vejjajiva and five other ministers from the Democrat Party, including Kasit, of corruption and mismanagement.

"The PAD and Democrats are the same group. Kasit was appointed as foreign minister to repay him for helping to seize the airport," opposition MP Visaradi Techathirawat said.

Another showed video footage of Kasit's previous comments on the protests and accused him of acting like an "international terrorist."

The foreign minister is also accused of ceding territory to Cambodia following renewed military tensions on their disputed border that boiled over into a deadly clash last year.

The opposition accused Kasit of allowing Cambodia to build a road on Thai land in exchange for securing Cambodian premier Hun Sen's attendance at a key regional summit that Thailand hosted last month.

But Kasit said territory had not been lost and defended his conciliatory approach.

"It's easy to fight, but people stand to lose, so we have to rely on peaceful negotiation... we are not losing any territory," he said.

The attacks on Kasit follow a day of debate centred on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva during Thursday's session that concluded in the early hours of the morning.

His Democrat Party is accused of receiving millions of dollars in illegal donations and illegally distributing funds, while it is alleged Abhisit certified false party financial statements and dodged military service.

The move to censure by allies of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra is almost certain to fail but opposition lawmakers hope that the allegations will weaken the ruling coalition.

Abhisit is named in the motion alongside Kasit, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, his deputy Pradit Patharaprasit, Interior Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul and his deputy Boonchong Wongtrairat.

The debate must finish by midnight Friday in order to allow a Saturday vote.

Oxford-educated Abhisit took office in December after a court ruling toppled the then-ruling party allied to Thaksin. The Democrats subsequently won over parties that were part of the previous coalition government.

Former Burton resident gets 13 years in Cambodian prison

The Flint Journal -

by The Flint Journal and wire reports
Friday March 20, 2009

BURTON, Michigan -- A former Burton man will spend 13 years in a Cambodian prison for sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl.

Jason T. Baumbach, 40, was also ordered to pay the girls family about 20 million riels -- the U.S. equivalent of $5,000.

Baumbach was arrested in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last September on allegations he was having sex with a young girl he had met after moving to Cambodia in 2007.

Officials told a local newspaper there last year that the girl was having sex with Baumbach because he was paying the $100 monthly bill for her English lessons.

He had apparently met the girl through her sister.

Baumbach's lawyer, Chap Keo, said his client never had sex with the girl and that her parents promised that he could marry her when she turned 18.

The lawyer said Baumbach will appeal the conviction. Baumbach was among at least seven foreign nationals arrested in a Cambodian crackdown on child sex.

Rare Cambodian vultures recuperate from poisoning

In this Dec. 10, 2008 handout photo released by Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS veterinarian doctor Priscilla Joyner, left, conservationist Angela Yang, right, and bird bander Helen Ward, rear center, examine a white-rumped vulture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Veterinarians in Cambodia have saved the lives of two vultures from a nearly extinct species, but failed to rescue seven others who feasted on a poisoned water buffalo.(AP Photo/Wildlife Conservation Society, Allan Michaud, HO)

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press
Published: March 20, 2009

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Veterinarians in Cambodia have saved the lives of two vultures from a nearly extinct species, but failed to rescue seven others who feasted on a poisoned water buffalo.

Pech Bunnat of the Wildlife Conservation Society said Friday that the white-rumped vultures were found in December in the northeastern province of Stung Treng.

They had apparently been stricken after eating the carcass of a water buffalo, which itself died after drinking from a poisoned pond. The pond was poisoned in order to catch the fish in it.

The white-rumped vulture — along with three other vulture species — has been listed since 2000 as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

With a range stretching from Pakistan to Vietnam, the vulture was once considered one of the most abundant large birds of prey in the world. But the bird experienced precipitous population declines beginning in the 1990s largely due to the use of the anti-inflammatory cattle drug diclofenac, according to the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

The drug proved effective in cattle but caused renal failure and mortality in any vulture that fed on the cow corpses that still retained the drug. Populations of white-rumped vultures dropped a staggering 95 percent and have yet to recover.

There are about 282 vultures in Cambodia, most of them in Stung Treng province and officially treated as protected, said Pech Bunnat, who is project manager of the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project.

He said the Wildlife Conservation Society has built seven feeding stations in the jungle for vultures, which are supplied once or twice a month with slaughtered cows, so that the vulture population can be more closely monitored.

Mom of murder victim takes memories to Cambodia

Star Community Newspapers

By Stephanie Flemmons, Staff writer
Friday, March 20, 2009

Every day, Akemi Rhea prays for the man who killed her son.

But every day is a struggle dealing with the unsolved case and recognizing the murderer is still at large.

“I had to forgive him,” Rhea said. “I want to meet him and encourage him to turn himself in. I’ve been praying for him and his family ever since my son died.”

Rhea’s son, Adrain Porier, was fatally stabbed 12 times in May of 2008. The man who witnesses saw fleeing the scene of the crime was identified as David Martin Ruiz.

Plano detectives are continuing to search for his whereabouts and believe Ruiz could possibly reside in the Phoenix area.

In memory of her son, Rhea, her husband Bill and their nine adopted children are moving to Cambodia in April to fulfill a vision Adrain had for many years. She said they plan to build an orphanage and protect the children Adrain loved.

Rhea said Adrain was the family’s inspiration to adopt children in poverty stricken environments.

“Just get as many as you can,” were the words Adrain repeated to his family anytime there was doubt about adopting more.

In 2001, Rhea was encouraged by a church friend to adopt children. Once Adrain learned of the idea, she said he was the most excited of her four boys.

After all the adoption paperwork was complete, the Rheas were approved for two children.

“We first wanted two older children,” Rhea said. “We really wanted twins.”

Rhea said they picked the two children they planned to adopt and later that night the adoption agency e-mailed the name of a third child who had just been rejected from her family.

“At first we were overwhelmed,” Rhea said. “But Adrain said, ‘Mom, if you leave this little girl in Cambodia, you are leaving my little sister.’”

That year Adrain traveled to Cambodia with the family to pick up their first three adopted children. Rhea said Adrain was devastated when he saw the shape this third world country was in and just how many children were abandoned.

“He was so moved by the poverty that he wanted to sell his truck and build an orphanage,” Rhea said. “I thought it was so sweet of him to think that way.”

Just two months later the Rheas got a referral from China for another child. They agreed and brought her home and at that point Rhea said the adoption urge was over.

Two years later, Rhea said the urge returned. She contacted adoption agencies in China, but was told she had too many children. She learned she could adopt out of Africa and started researching the requirements. A friend encouraged Rhea to condense her scope and be open to adopting American children who have been rejected by their families.

“I went on a Web site and found a sibling group of four,” Rhea said. “I just fell in love with them and wanted all four of them. They were so beautiful and they looked so amazing.”

Rhea said she discussed the possible adoption with her boys and all but Adrain were opposed to the additions to the family.

“Adrain said, ‘Hey, I love what you are doing, just get as many as you can,’” Rhea said. “He was so into the other children. He was so excited for us and for the children we were adopting.”

His words inspired Rhea to go through the process and adopt the children from San Antonio. By the fall of 2003, the Rheas received one more boy and three girls.

“Adrain was very close to the boy,” Rhea said. “They would stay up all night and just talk.”

For the next five years, Rhea said Adrain was the hero of the family. She said he became a Christian and converted right before his murder.

Rhea said Adrain was the type of person who was friends with everyone and she believes the night he was murdered he was trying to calm Ruiz down from hurting any of his neighbors.

“Adrain told his roommate that David Martin Ruiz needed to be redeemed,” Rhea said. “Adrain was a gentle soul.”

Four days after Adrain’s funeral, the Rheas received a call from a girl they had mentored over a three-year period.

“She was crying and asked us to take her 7-week-old baby,” Rhea said. “Immediately, Adrain’s words came into my heart: ‘Get as many as you can,’” Rhea said.

She told the mother she had to discuss it with her husband. Rhea said she immediately pulled over into a parking lot and began to pray. She called her husband and told him about the baby.

“His immediate response was, ‘Get as many as you can, right?’” Rhea said. “I could not believe this. I just started crying.”

Jada’s adoption was finalized Nov. 13, 2008.

Because of Adrain and his death, the Rheas decided to go back to Cambodia to see if there was anything they could do with Asian Hope, a ministry to orphans in Cambodia that she discovered three days before Adrain’s death.

“Through a series of beautiful providences, we are set to move to Cambodia and work with the children in the trash dump,” Rhea said. “Hopefully it will be called the Adrain Porier Gehenna Rescue Mission.”

Rhea said she will be overseeing the dump daycare facility with her family and some workers. Meanwhile, her husband, a retired state district judge, will be working with TransformAsia as their assistant director, overseeing an orphanage on the Thai/Cambodian border which houses women and girls who have been trafficked.

Before the family makes their move to Cambodia, Rhea said she hopes to get in touch with the Ruiz family or learn of his capture.

“I tried to call Ruiz’s mother in Arizona City a few months ago,” Rhea said. “I wanted her to know that our entire family forgives him and that I really hurt for her. She is the mother of a murderer. My son was murdered.”

Contact Stephanie Flemmons at

Cambodia approves draft law on non-proliferation of nuclear, chemical weapons

People's Daily Online
March 20, 2009

Cambodia approved on Friday a draft law banning nuclear, chemical, bio-chemical and radio-active weapons in the country.

The draft law was approved at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"The draft law will help guarantee security, public orders, environment protection and welfare of our people, and also contribute to protecting security and peace in the region and in the whole world," said a statement of the Council of Ministers.

The draft law also completely prohibits production, recycling, receiving, transferring, storing, transportation and use of nuclear, bio-chemical, radioactive and chemical substances, which are essential for manufacturing weapons of their types, the statement said.

The draft law has 13 chapters and 32 articles, it added.

Source: Xinhua

Japan to help Cambodia pay its share of costs of Khmer Rouge trial

PHNOM PENH, March 20 (AP) - (Kyodo)—The Japanese government said Friday it will contribute $200,000 in urgently needed assistance to help Cambodia cover a shortfall of funds for the U.N.-assisted trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders.

The Japanese Embassy here said the assistance was requested by Cambodia to finance its share of the budget for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, as the Khmer Rouge tribunal is formally known.

"Japan places a great emphasis on the progress of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, as it believes that this process will promote peace, democracy, the rule of law and good governance in Cambodia," the embassy said in a statement.

Reach Sambath, spokesman of the ECCC, said, "We very much appreciate the contribution made by Japanese government at the time that Cambodian side is running out of budget."

He said the Japanese contribution will partially fund operational costs for this month. The tribunal will then require another $4.1 million from donors to support its operations for the rest of the year, he said.

Japan has so far contributed more than $20 million for the realization of the Khmer Rouge trials.

The court is currently handling the case against former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Ieu, better known as Duch, the first of five Khmer Rouge figures detained by the tribunal to be tried. His full trial, expected to last for three months, starts on March 30.

The Khmer Rouge are blamed for the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians in the late 1970s.

Boeung Kak : Residents under threat of eviction denounce operation of misinformation

Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 19/03/2009: Boeung Kak lake resident at a press conference held at the CLEC.
©John Vink/ Magnum


By Ros Dina

Some thirty representatives for the 4,252 families living under threat of eviction on the Boeung Kak lakeside, at the heart of Cambodia's capital, insisted on denouncing publicly at a press conference held on Thursday March 19th, “false information” broadcast by the television channel Bayon TV, according to which 70% of families accepted to leave their dwelling and let the Shukaku Inc. company develop the zone into a vast urban complex.

Inside the CLEC (Community Legal Education Centre) premises, in front of journalists and non-governmental organisations, Duong Bophary, one of the representatives of the Boeung Kak community, formally denied figures given by a Bayon TV journalist, the director general of which is none other than Hun Mana, the daughter and assistant to the office of prime Minister Hun Sen. According to the families representative, to this day, only 20% of them accepted to leave their home, and this mainly concerns families living in small floating houses in Groups 2 and 4 in Boeung Kak, located just next to the pipes from which sand is already pouring down and progressively filling the lake.

The reportage at issue, broadcast on February 24th and 25th, presented images shot in Boeung Kak in February, followed by comments from a journalist, asserting that in the meantime, the Shukaku Inc company had already started to develop that zone and that almost 2 families out of 3 had accepted to resettle on another site. The journalist stressed that the government should be given credit for this progress as it is an active part in the development of a new city.

In the same reportage, oknha Lav Van, who represents the concessionary company, boasted about the advantages granted by his company to lake residents. “They had the opportunity to transform their life by going from a home on the water, in an unhealthy environment, to a real house. Moreover, they can sell [their new home] whenever they want to and I think that price would bring them twice the amount back in! The value of their house in Boeung Kak, where they have been living for twenty years, will never be appreciated like that. And anyway, they can neither buy nor sell, because they do not possess legal title deeds”, the businessman explained. He was also very pleased about the transformation of the Boeung Kak lake and the neighbouring plots of land, which gather 133 hectares, into a new town, adjoining to Phnom Penh, with accommodation, shopping malls, hotels, banks and conference rooms.

That optimism was not share d at all by representatives of the families who were present at the conference. Indeed they particularly reminded that the Shukaku Inc company said they wanted to follow the “pattern” of another private company called 7NG [read also Land violences in Cambodia: Dey Krohom razed to the ground following a tough eviction] and offer residents three solutions: owning a house in Santepheap II, a sillage built by... 7NG, in Damnak Trah Yeung, located some 20 km west of Phnom Penh ; receiving a sum of money equivalent to 8,000 USdollars and 2 million riels (around 500 USdollars) ; or benefit from a new house, on the same site of Boeung Kak. Out of these three solutions, the first two were indeed presented to residents, but not the third one, families representatives denounce: like the waters of the lake, it evaporated somewhere... “In a letter dated April 25th 2008 from the Municipality and answering a question of the National Assembly on that topic, it is written that discussions were in progress with the population to study these three possibilities. But in fact, this is not the case at all”, Choung Chou Ngy, a lawyer for Boeung Kak inhabitants, claims.

According to Duong Bophary, Shukaku Inc officials never started any discussion with inhabitants. “Until now, we do not clearly know the criteria of the company. Is there a difference between those who live in floating houses and the others? On land, people have large houses and guest houses... What will their compensation be?”, Duong Bophary asks, urging the company to think about specific and “reasonable” solutions in favour of all the residents and within respect of their rights, rather than finding inspiration in what has been done in other areas of Phnom Penh

Most of the inhabitants in the 93-hectare zone concerned by the eviction, of which 40 ha are under the waters of the lake, are civil servants at the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Health, and they have been there since 1980 or 1982, Duong Bophary pointed out.

Despite the absence of agreement with all the residents, works for filling the lake with sand have already started, causing flooding and blocking access to some areas. Several houses have collapsed after the first discharge of sand. This is the case of the house of Keo Malay, a widow. The company did not allow her to rebuild her home and offered her a 200-dollar compensation, which she refused.

On the Internet
- Site of the campaign "Save Boeung Kak ", launched by the NGO Housing Rights Task Force