Mar 9, 2011
Phnom Penh - The World Bank said Wednesday that a land titling programme it funded in Cambodia has failed thousands of people living in central Phnom Penh.
The bank's mea culpa follows the government's forced eviction of thousands of people from the area around Boeung Kak lake in the capital over the past two years.
The bank said the evictions had caused 'grave harm' to residents.
Thousands more residents are under imminent threat of being evicted with little or no compensation in a controversial development deal of the 133-hectare site that is linked to a prominent ruling party politician.
Few if any of Boeung Kak's residents have been able to get land title documents from the local authorities, despite legal experts saying that many are entitled to them.
The World Bank assessment was carried out by an independent inspection panel, which examined the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP) that began in 2002 and received 24 million dollars from the organization.
Cambodia's land tenure system was destroyed during decades of conflict, and the LMAP project was designed to ensure people could get land title documents.
The panel pointed out that more than a million households around the country had benefited from LMAP and received land title documents.
But its investigation into complaints filed in 2009 by residents of Boeung Kak lake showed key failings by the bank's management, including being too slow to respond to evictions.
'Management did not adequately follow up on strengthening public awareness and community participation, and there were delays in implementing dispute resolution mechanisms and the assistance to improve state land management,' it said.
The panel added that residents had been denied due process in assessing their claims and had been evicted by the government in violation of agreed procedures.
'The claims of Boeung Kak lake community are serious. The issues raised involve fundamental questions of their land rights tenure security,' said Roberto Lenton, who headed the inspection panel.
'The panel found that the evictions took place in violation of the bank policy on involuntary resettlement and resulted in grave harm to the affected families and community,' Lenton said.
Around half of the area's residents have so far been evicted, and last week the government warned the remaining 2,000 families to accept compensation ahead of their pending evictions or face legal action. Residents and land rights activists have long said the compensation on offer is far too low.
World Bank president Robert Zoellick said the organization had 'repeatedly called on the (Cambodian) government to end the evictions' and was 'seeking a positive government response.'
'We are deeply troubled and frustrated about the people who are being forced from their homes,' Zoellick said.
The Cambodian government cancelled LMAP in late 2009 after the World Bank asked it to suspend the land titling project in light of complaints about evictions.
In recent years land prices have rocketed across Cambodia as the economy strengthened, with tens of thousands of people driven off their land by the powerful and well-connected.