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Naga eyeing institute land

17 Sep

 By Eddie Morton and Chhay Channyda, The Pnhom Penh Post, 17 September 2014

Workers from the neighbouring NagaCorp construction site demolish a section of wall at the Buddhist Institute in May

Workers from the neighbouring NagaCorp construction site demolish a section of wall at the Buddhist Institute in May. Heng Chivoan

NagaCorp, the parent company of Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld casino, has confirmed that it is eyeing land occupied by the Buddhist Institute for a new hotel development, a revelation that comes mere months after the government proclaimed in no uncertain terms that the institute was there to stay.

The expression of interest, made in a conference call with NagaCorp investors on August 7, confirms the suspicions of activist monks, but the government says no concrete proposal has come its way.

Philip Lee, chief financial officer of NagaCorp, told investors and analysts during the August conference call that the company had plans for Naga3 – a hotel without gaming operations – which, if approved, would result in relocating the Buddhist Institute not far from its current location.

“Now, it is important to note that … presently Naga3 is very much in planning. It is conceptual. We are in discussions with the authorities to develop that location,” Lee is quoted as saying in the call’s transcript, which has since been removed from the company’s website.

“So we are working – we have proposed or at least to build Naga3, which will comprise – in the centre, you see that pyramidal kind of structure.… And on the left of it, the white structure would be the new office of the Buddhist Institute.”

Yesterday, Mark Brown, chief operating officer of NagaWorld, said the company was in talks with the Cambodian government over the land.

“For Naga3, the image is our dream and does not represent actual event,” Brown told thePost via email.

“We hope we can convince the government to grant the rights of usage of the land, which unfortunately, has not been obtained yet.”

NagaCorp’s negotiations with the government over the institute’s land come as the company nears finishing its NagaWalk retail project along Sihanouk Boulevard and as construction continues on the $370 million Naga2 project, which is slated for completion in early 2017.

Both of the gaming firm’s construction sites now entirely surround the Buddhist Institute.

NagaCorp’s expansion has long fuelled rumours that the institute’s land is slowly being sold off to accommodate the casino operator’s proposals.

But Sar Sokny, acting director of the Buddhist Institute, told the Post yesterday he had not yet been approached nor was he aware of NagaCorp’s development ambitions for Naga3.

Chea Vuthy, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodian Investment Board, a department of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, which approves projects, also said he was unaware of the plans.

Seng Somony, a spokesman for the Ministry of Cult and Religion, which oversees the work of the institute, said he was too busy to comment yesterday.

In May, members of the activist Independent Monks Network, who believed that the institute would be moved, held demonstrations, basing their actions on construction at the site that the government said was part of an electricity substation.

During the march, Somony personally attempted to stop the monks, brandishing copies of documents detailing exactly what the government had agreed to with NagaCorp.

“If NagaWorld does not follow this contract, I myself will bring all of you to protest in front of NagaWorld,” he said at the time.

The substation will, however, be used to power part of the casino’s new development plans across the street, but the government hasn’t sold or leased any of its land, the ministry said.

While the protests stopped, the monks in June called on the Ministry of Cult and Religion to release all the paperwork proving that an agreement it struck with NagaCorp to help construct the substation does not involve the selling of any of the centre’s land to the casino.

Contacted yesterday, Independent Monk Network leader But Buntenh said he had heard about the Naga3 project from staffers at the institute. They allegedly told him that the new office would be moved to Chhbar Ampov district.

“If the government approves it, we will have a big protest against the land of the Buddhist Institute being sold to the gambling company,” he said.

“The ambition of them is to swallow the land step by step … and if there is no public protest or any reaction, they will grab all the land.”

Koh Kong villagers seek PM’s help in capital

17 Sep

By Chhay Channyda, The Phnom Penh Post, 17 September 2014

Community representatives from Koh Kong province speak to local media at the Phnom Penh Appeals Court

Community representatives from Koh Kong province speak to local media at the Phnom Penh Appeals Court yesterday about an ongoing land dispute. Heng Chivoan

Villagers from Koh Kong province have descended on the capital, ready to petition Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government today to intervene in their long-running land dispute with prominent businessman Heng Huy.

Phav Nhoeung, a representative of 15 families in Sre Ambel district’s Chi Khor Krom commune who claim to have resisted threats from Huy to vacate their homes since 2009, said yesterday that 30 villagers would camp out in Phnom Penh overnight.

“I will stay in Phnom Penh to wait to submit a petition to the prime minister’s cabinet and the National Assembly. We will also go to the Ministry of Interior to submit our petition,” she said.

Nhoeung said that since Huy won a case against fellow businessman Sok Hong in 2009 regarding a plot that borders the villagers’, he had attempted to encroach on their land.

“They bordered each other, but when Heng Huy implemented the verdict [granting him Hong’s land], it was on our land,” she said

“Only stubborn villagers like us still resist … but it’s been our land for a long time and Heng Huy wants to grab it,” she added.

The villagers had timed their trip to the capital to coincide with an Appeal Court hearing, scheduled for yesterday, over the disputed land, but the hearing was postponed because Huy’s attorney needed more time to collect evidence, Nhoeung said.

Nhoeung herself is scheduled to appear in court next month to face the company’s accusations of violence.

Last month, Hun Sen blamed the inaction of local officials for ongoing land disputes.

Tuon Seila, Sre Ambel district governor, said that the case was beyond his “authority’s capacity”, but added that, had he known about the villagers’ plans, he “would have asked them to solve the problem in the community”.

Huy could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Soldiers sent to Areng post

17 Sep

By Phak Seangly and Daniel Pye, The Phnom Penh Post, 17 September 2014

Activists against the Stung Cheay Areng dam stand in front of police at a makeshift checkpoint in Koh Kong province

Activists against the Stung Cheay Areng dam stand in front of police at a makeshift checkpoint in Koh Kong province yesterday. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Soldiers have been stationed at the site of a roadblock that was manned by environmental activists protesting the planned Stung Cheay Areng dam in Koh Kong province.

Twelve Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officers have been posted on the road at the entrance to the Areng Valley since security forces detained 11 activists on Monday.

Neng Van, RCAF commander in Thma Bang district, said the soldiers had been deployed to guard the road to stop the activists from blocking it again.

“We are guarding [the road] around the clock in order to maintain order and security there, and to avoid the road being blocked, which disturbs the villagers,” he said.

Alex Gonzales-Davidson, founder of NGO Mother Nature, was released shortly after 1am yesterday morning after signing a letter apologising for “parking his car across the road”.

Ten other activists were released by the provincial police at about the same time, officials said.

“We had to make a contract with the authorities, promising to stop doing any activities, but we will still carry out our campaign, because it’s not illegal,” Mother Nature’s Heng Samnang, 21, said.

The authorities confiscated several cameras from the activists on Monday and deleted images and videos of the incident, Mother Nature representatives said.

“Three of our cameras were thrown into the jungle. We’re hearing that the relocation site’s been taken over by soldiers,” Gonzales-Davidson said. “These are people under the pay of [dam builder] Sinohydro . . . We’re not going to let them in regardless of who they are.”

Um Serey Vuth of Sawac Consultants, which has been contracted to carry out an environmental impact assessment at the planned dam site, said he was waiting on authorisation to go back into the valley.

Sam Khitviet, Koh Kong provincial police chief, said that if the campaign continued, the activists could face “tough measures”.

The Cambodian Youth Network issued a statement yesterday condemning the arrests as “an act of intimidation on the protesters who work to preserve the forest and natural resources”.

Environmental Activists Released, Plan to Block Road Again

17 Sep

By Khoun Narim, The Cambodia Daily, 17 September 2014
English1

Standoff, arrests in Areng

16 Sep

By Phak Seangly and Daniel Pye, The Phnom Penh Post, 16 September 2014

Koh Kong provincial authorities detained nine people, including the founder of a local environmental group established to protect the Areng Valley, for several hours yesterday after the activists blocked security forces from using an access road into the area.

As of press time, eight of the nine had been released, while Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, founder and president of NGO Mother Nature, which helps organises opposition to the construction of the planned Stung Cheay Areng hydropower dam in the valley, was unaccounted for.

Speaking shortly before he was detained by mixed security forces yesterday afternoon, Gonzalez-Davidson said the situation was “tense”.

“Our car’s blocking the road.… A lot of people came to block the access road. It’s very tense. They [the police] are talking to somebody high up. They don’t claim to be from the dam [company], they’re from the interministerial committee,” he said, referring to a government committee set up to oversee the planning of the dam’s construction.

Sin Samnang, 28, a Mother Nature representative who was at the blockade prior to the activists being detained, said that at about 1pm the armed security forces’ ranks swelled to about 50 officers.

“Before this event, we saw some 20 soldiers and police forces armed with guns. But later on, more and more came, up to about 50 armed forces, and they picked people up right away,” he said.

The group was brought to Thma Bang District Hall for questioning, he added.

“The community did not allow them [police] to enter. They haven’t studied the impacts [of the dam], but the authorities talked about the compensation instead,” Samnang said.

The crackdown on the Areng activists follows the blocking by security forces of a bicycle ride organised by Mother Nature in Phnom Penh last month to raise awareness of their cause.

China Southern Power Grid unveiled the dam project in 2010 but later backed out, and China Guodian Corporation soon took over. The planned 104-megawatt Stung Cheay Areng project was then taken over by Sinohydro early this year. In its annual report, Guodian said it had abandoned the project because it wasn’t “economically viable”.

Activists are concerned that, along with a host of negative environmental and social impacts, the dam concession will be used as cover for illegal logging and other side projects.

In February, Sinohydro Resources Ltd, a holding company for Sinohydro Group, was granted approval for six months of extensive drilling, geological mapping and prospecting at the site, which the provincial director of the Ministry of Mines and Energy said at the time could lead to mining operations if minerals were found.

Major environmental groups have publicly opposed the dam. In April, Conservation International and Fauna & Flora International wrote to Sawac Consultants for Development, a firm contracted by Sinohydro to carry out an environmental impact assessment for the project, suggesting the dam should not be built.

Grassroots resistance to the proposed dam has grown since January, with local residents and activists blocking several attempts by Sinohydro staff and security forces to enter the valley during a blockade of the access road earlier this year.

The latest confrontation, in Thma Bang’s Pralay commune, began after the activists heard in the early hours of yesterday that security forces would attempt to access the valley, Gonzalez-Davidson said.

Chhuch Rim, 27, an ethnic Chorng villager at the blockade yesterday, said the security forces had become angry after their path was blocked.

“Alex used his pickup truck to block the road with the people to stop the authorities, police and military police from entering,” he said. “Before their arrest, the authorities asked the protesters to stand in separate groups according to whether they were from the communities, the youth network from Phnom Penh or Mother Nature staff members.”

In Kong Chheth, provincial monitor for rights group Licadho, said the security forces were accompanied by provincial Deputy Governor Phun Ly Vireak, who he said was going to visit the local community ahead of the Pchum Ben festival.

“The arrest is in revenge, because the authorities were not happy with Alex and his activists who blocked the road many times,” Kong Chheth said. “So they accused them of interfering with the government’s affairs and arrested them.”

Ly Vireak told the Post that only nine people were detained for questioning.

“We did not arrest them, but instead, we just invited them for questioning about why they blocked the road like that. The police did not handcuff them,” he said.

Touch Savuth, Thma Bang district governor, and Sim Vary, district police chief, could not be reached for comment.

Phnong rally in Mondulkiri

16 Sep

By Chhay Channyda, The Phnom Penh Post, 16 September 2014

Ethnic minority villagers from Pech Chreada district hold placards during a demonstration in Mondulkiri

Ethnic minority villagers from Pech Chreada district hold placards during a demonstration in Mondulkiri to raise awareness about ongoing disputes with holders of economic land concessions. ADHOC

About 200 ethnic Phnong villagers gathered in Mondulkiri province’s Bousraa commune yesterday to protest against several companies that hold economic land concessions in the area, which they say are destroying their traditional livelihoods.

The villagers from Pech Chreada district accused the Kau Su Dak Lak Company and French-owned rubber giant Socfin of digging channels that blocked roads used by the villagers, cutting off access to a nearby forest where they harvest forest products.

The villagers also accused a company called LKL of firing on ethnic minority villagers on September 6 when they stopped to take a break from hunting in a community forest in the same district.

Malaysian-owned Mega First Corporation and a firm the villagers called K-First had also indicated that they might obstruct roads used by the villagers, community representative Khut Chanra, 38, claimed.

Following the demonstration yesterday morning, villagers met with Pech Chreada district governor and Bousraa commune chief Yeut Trin.

“We asked them to cancel some companies’ concessions because they fired on people, causing injuries in the past. [We also] asked for freedom of movement, to not let them block our road. We want a written promise or else we will not stop protesting and we will go to Phnom Penh,” Chanra said.

“But the authorities said it was not their responsibility. We used to live in harmony in a traditional indigenous manner, but since the development started in 2006, it has affected our living,” he added.

Commune chief Trin told the Post that he would seek a resolution for the community, but that some of what they were asking was “beyond my responsibility”. He declined to comment further.

So Sovann, deputy provincial police chief, said that the authorities had identified the assailants in the shooting incident last week.

“There is a sole shooter and he is on the run. We also questioned the company. I ordered the district police chief to send me the case,” he said.

Gibbon, big cat rescued in July raids

16 Sep

By Phak Sheangly, The Phnom Penh Post, 16 September 2014

Conservation group Wildlife Alliance rescued 333 animals, including an endangered pileated gibbon, in 12 provinces during the month of July, the NGO announced on its website yesterday.

The Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team successfully conducted 46 operations based on 79 calls to the team’s 24-hour hotline, the organisation said.

One operation on July 1 saw the team rescue a pileated gibbon and a leopard cub from captivity in Kampot province.

The animals were subsequently sent to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center in Takeo province after those keeping the animals as pets were made aware that it was “unsafe, illegal and inhumane”, Wildlife Alliance said.

Other rescued animals included seven pygmy slow lorises, a sun bear, two crested serpent eagles and “dozens of other birds, snakes and turtles”.

Of the 79 calls made to the Wildlife Rescue Hotline, 11 came from Forestry Administration officials, 21 from the general public and 41 from “informants”.

‘Settle land dispute or else’

16 Sep

By Pech Sotheary, The Phnom Penh Post, 16 September 2014

Villagers from Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district sit opposite the National Assembly yesterday in Phnom Penh

Villagers from Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district sit opposite the National Assembly yesterday in Phnom Penh, where community representatives were delivering a letter addressing their concerns. Vireak Mai

The head of the National Assembly’s top human rights commission has warned Banteay Meanchey’s provincial governor to settle a land dispute involving 230 disabled soldiers’ families from the province’s Malai district, saying he will be sacked if the matter is not settled within three months.

After meeting representatives of the soldiers’ families, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, president of the Commission on Human Rights, Complaints and Investigation, said authorities had turned a blind eye to the dispute.

“If the provincial governor fails to settle this matter, we will summon him for questioning, and we will ask the government to sack him if necessary. If he does not respect the guidelines, how can we allow him to be the provincial governor?” said Eang.

Him Yoeun, one of the three representatives of soldiers – mostly ex-Khmer Rouge fighters – said they would only return to the negotiating table if they were given a guarantee they wouldn’t be arrested.

“Unless we have a confirmation letter saying we will not be arrested by any institution, we will not come back, because in the past, when our representatives went, they were arrested. It has already happened twice.”

But according to Banteay Meanchey Governor Kor Sum Saroeut, the case is particularly complicated, because other people had since moved onto parts of the disputed land.

“Other people have occupied the land, so we have to negotiate with them and negotiate with our own authorities, and then we can settle,” he said, adding that the representatives would not be arrested if they came.

According to the representatives, 2,929 hectares of disputed land were given to the 230 disabled soldiers’ families by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 1997, but seven years ago, their former commanders – Mao Kiri, Preap Sarun and Ly Utny – sold the land to a third party. They have been protesting ever since.

Double-amputee Sok Phat urged the authorities to offer them land titles soon and bring infrastructure to their home district.

OCIC Razes Last Shacks, Families Move On

16 Sep

By Sek Odom, The Cambodia Daily, 16 September 2014

English1

World Bank mulls new loans

15 Sep

By Daniel Pye, The Phnom Penh Post, 15 September 2014

A Boeung Kak lake community activist holds a letter addressing their concerns at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh

A Boeung Kak lake community activist holds a letter addressing their concerns at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh earlier this month. Eli Meixler

The World Bank is considering granting $25 million in fresh loans to Cambodia to fund social land concessions. If the project is approved, it could mark the bank’s first loans since it suspended lending in 2011 when it pledged no new funding until a resolution to the Boeung Kak lake dispute had been reached.

The project proposal, posted to the bank’s website in late August, came eight months after the US House of Representatives passed a spending bill in which it asked the bank not to “re-engage” with Cambodia until the political deadlock following the July 2013 election had been resolved.

The five-year Land Allocation for Social and Economic Development II project (LASED II) would see $25 million in loans from the bank’s International Development Association – along with $2 million from the Cambodian government – fund 15 social land concessions in Kratie, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Thom, Kampong Speu and Battambang provinces.

Fourteen of the sites have already been allocated $11.5 million from the bank and $1.2 million from a German fund under the first phase of the project, which began in 2008, while a new concession in Kampong Thom is due to be added under the second phase.

Dr Sareth Boramy, LASED II project director with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, confirmed that the project was up for discussion in early October.

“We are not sure yet about [the details of] this project. It’s in the steps of preparation only.… This is a new phase so we’re not sure [how it will proceed] yet,” he said.

The proposal gives the estimated date of approval by the bank’s board of directors as December 11.

The bank announced the suspension of all new loans to Cambodia in August 2011, with then-country director Annette Dixon saying at the time that “until an agreement is reached with the residents of Boeung Kak … we do not expect to provide any new lending to Cambodia”.

The suspension came on the heels of an 18-month investigation by the bank’s internal auditor, which in 2011 found that its land-titling project unfairly denied Boeung Kak families their rights after politically connected developer Shukaku Inc was leased the land in 2007 and families were forcibly evicted.

The families have sought compensation from the bank in line with its resettlement policy, but the bank has responded by saying it is unable to process their requests because the Cambodian government is unwilling to co-operate.

Since the announcement of the suspension of loans, the bank has “disbursed” more than $7.15 million to the original LASED project, according to its website, which lists 11 “active” projects in Cambodia.

A World Bank spokesman said via email that it had not formally re-engaged with Cambodia.

“No new project has been presented to our Board. In the meantime, we continue to do analytical and other technical work on Cambodia,” he said.

But in an interview with the Post in December, World Bank country director Ulrich Zachau said the lender had “begun a process of engagement” and would “continue talking [to] and consulting” the Boeung Kak community.

Tep Vanny, a prominent representative of the Boeung Kak families, said that the community would be “very upset” if new loans were made without a resolution to their dispute.

“We have not had a response from the US Embassy related to our petition submitted last week calling on US senators to pressure the World Bank not to restart lending,” she said.

Eang Vuthy, executive director of Equitable Cambodia, said any proposed new loans would have to go through a process of consultation with communities displaced by the Boeung Kak development.

“The [Boeung Kak lake] case is still outstanding, and if there is agreement, the conditions should be included in the [proposal],” he said. “There should be prior consultation with the affected communities. The [Boeung Kak] community strongly … stated that the BKL issue needs to be addressed. And [until] now it has not been fully addressed.”

Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said that while he did not oppose new loans in general, they needed to be tied to a resolution of the Boeung Kak dispute.

“I would not reject the new loans, but the World Bank needs to seek a resolution for Boeung Kak. Especially for the … farmers, more than 3,000 [of whom] are affected by the World Bank’s projects,” he said.

Cheam Pe A, the LASED II project coordinator from the Ministry of Interior, and the World Bank’s team leader for the project, Mudita Chamroeun, could not be reached for comment.

Sophal Ear, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, yesterday criticised the plans to offer new loans to Cambodia.

“The Bank has wanted to resume new lending (nevermind the fact that it was fine funneling new money into old loans all along) for a long time in Cambodia,” he said in an email. “The Bank has never been able to exact much if any reform from Cambodia in the past whether it be forestry or governance. I don’t imagine it will be different now.”

Vanny of the Boeung Kak community said she had met personally with a group of US senators and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim twice in the past two years.

“The bank president recognised its mistake in not monitoring their fund.… They promised to postpone their fund until the Cambodian government resolved the problem for our community,” she said.

“If the bank provides the new loans to Cambodia to fund social land concessions it means that they are joining with the corrupt government of Cambodia to grab land from the poor.”

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