Cambodia turns on its own

Tens of thousands are being thrown out of their land in the name of development.


In Cambodia, tens of thousand of people are being forced to seek temporary shelter after government land seizures had left them homeless. The conditions faced by many of those evicted from their homes are dire.


There is little food, no proper shelter, no running water and no health care, reports Al Jazeera from Sihanoukville in Cambodia‘s south.


A week ago these families had homes. Tonight they shelter in tents. They lived on “contested” property. The local government threw them off and the army destroyed what was left.


Tents offer no protection from the elements

Sok Mom, an evicted resident, said: “I just want to go back to my home, or at least get some land to build a new home.”


Most of those evicted by the government, infants and their sick, crying mothers, spend their life under makeshift shelters.


Ros Saoita, another evicted resident, said: “They had guns. They burned down our house, took all our property… our rice, our clothes. We came here with nothing.”


These families have been living here for only a week but already conditions are squalid.


The smell in some parts of the camp is overpowering and given the current wet season, the families barely have any protection from the elements.


Shelter after shelter the stories are the same. No compensation, nowhere to go.


The next day the evicted residents took Al Jazeera to the place where only a week ago they had homes and livelihoods.


The Land Act passed in 2001 did little to protect
villagers, favouring wealthy developers instead

The fourth village on Cambodia’s southern coastline has now been earmarked for redevelopment.


Like most rural villagers in this country, the people of this village held no land title. The Khmer Rouge destroyed the records during its four-year rule in the 1970’s.


A new Land Act passed in 2001 did little to protect them, favouring wealthy developers instead.


Yash Ghai, a UN representative, said there were “many gaps in the law” which rendered the land titles very dubious as there was no comprehensive system of land law.


“The people who suffer from all that are poor people, indigenous communities. So, I would say there are many violations of human rights and other laws that take place through the medium of the courts,” he said.


The authorities moved in on another village nearby and destroyed everything, forcibly removing the residents.


Pung Chhiv Kek, a human rights activist, said the people have already suffered during Cambodia‘s many years of civil war and the period of genocide.


“And now they suffer. You cannot just simply say ‘go away’. Where are they going [to go]? They are citizens of this country… the government should find a place for them.”


The displaced live in squalid conditions

Another 10,000 people displaced by government land seizures have found shelter in a camp on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh.


At least there is medical care at this camp but seasonal rains are having an effect here too.


They’ve been here a year and already at least 10 children have died after contracting dengue fever, including young children.


Phan Chendaa, whose seven-year-old son died of dengue, said: “I am angry. When I was in Phnom Penh we had enough food to eat. When we moved here life got worse, now we don’t have enough food.”


Seizure of land is one of the biggest issues facing Cambodia.


The government maintains it is legal, but declined to be interviewed by Al Jazeera for this story.

Source : Al Jazeera

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