Tag Archives: Phnom Penh

sahrika: PM urges crackdown on illegal timber trade

9 Apr

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday ordered his subordinates to crack down on illegal logging and issued a warning to companies engaging in nefarious forestry practices to clean up their act.

Speaking at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Hun Sen reiterated that illegal logging is a major problem, citing certain companies’ habit of abusing their economic land concessions (ELCs) and felling forests by the truckload.

“[The authorities] need to examine all ELCs. Taking back forest from those who destroy it is not enough,” he said.

“We have to arrest [people] and order them to pay back for their logging.”

He added that timber companies who engage in the illicit timber trade should be prosecuted, instructing government officials to not let them “get away with it”.

Agriculture Minister Ouk Rabun said that his ministry has been working to address the situation, and will “promote the implementation of land and forest management reforms”.

Executive director of the NGO Forum Tek Vannara supported the premier’s warning, saying it was time local officials started clamping down on illegal logging for the sake of the poor.

“Strict law enforcement must ensure that natural resources are [harvested] sustainably and managed better,” he said.

Last year, the ministry revoked ELCs from eight companies that breached their contracts, accounting for more than 170,000 hectares of land. The Ministry of Environment, meanwhile, stripped 23 companies of ELCs, covering 100,000 hectares.

ADB’s efforts to make good off to shaky start, audit finds

9 Apr

A review of the Asian Development Bank’s actions to remedy “major” failings in its provision of compensation and resettlement to thousands of families affected by a $143 million railway project it funded has found the bank failed to meet a number of its commitments.

The ADB’s internal audit of the project by its compliance review panel (CRP), begun in 2012, last year recommended the bank rethink its entire approach to dealing with the 4,000 affected families, which the ADB later admitted had become poorer as a result of resettlement, land loss and mounting debts.

The first annual review of its compliance with the audit’s recommendations, published on Monday, said that while “significant progress” had been made in five out of six areas highlighted in the review, “more effort is still required to bring the project into full compliance”.

The CRP noted that efforts to alleviate the debt burden of affected families “have not manifested on the ground as yet”, despite schemes, including one by the Australian Embassy, to reduce villagers’ indebtedness.

The ADB, AusAid and Credit Union Foundation Australia told the CRP that incomes were increasing and debts declining, but affected villagers reported only being able to pay back the interest on their debts.

The review also found that the bank’s “exit strategy”, announced in January, “seems akin to a strategy for transferring responsibility”.

“The proposed exit strategy also seems to ignore other means of promoting the ultimate objective of ADB’s Involuntary Resettlement Policy, namely to ensure that affected persons receive assistance so that they will be at least as well off as they would have been in the absence of the project.”

Errors in determining the value of lost property and income were found in a sizeable percentage of cases; however, a sample review found that many of the miscalculations had subsequently been corrected.

The identification of sub-par infrastructure at resettlement sites was “incomplete” and based on “inadequate consultation”, the audit said.

Eang Vuthy, executive director of Equitable Cambodia, which lodged the complaint with the ADB on behalf of the affected families, said the bank should follow through on its promises.

“I think the ADB has an obligation to implement the board’s recommendations, no matter whether the government cooperates or not . . . Now, we are seeing progress has been very slow,” he said. “We want to see ADB put more effort and resources to implement the recommendations. ADB has to closely monitor this on the ground, and they must have their own staff. You need to have people working full-time on this project. People are still suffering.”

Phnom Penh, where Porsches and poverty exist side by side

9 Apr

9 Apr 2015 By Sylvia Varnham O’Reganm (ABS)

p1080445

Driving down a busy Phnom Penh road, I notice a motorbike coming up behind us with a huge cage on its back. It’s so big I can barely see the driver.

As it whizzes past I notice the cage is squashed full of chickens, their flattened heads and claws poking out the sides.

There are no rules on Cambodia’s roads and you never know who’ll pull in front next. Or when.

The next car to pass is a black Porsche; its shiny body close to the ground as it hums past and weaves around the squashed chickens before evaporating into the distance.

Sights like this are common in Phnom Penh, where symbols of wealth and prosperity sit alongside extreme poverty and desperation.

It’s my first visit to Cambodia and I’m hoping to learn as much as I can about how the country has rebuilt itself in the aftermath of the violent Khmer Rouge regime and whether it’s capable of supporting refugees from Nauru, as planned by the Australian government.

10338731_10153241470865854_1684241552450195681_n

The Khmer Rouge was a brutal regime that controlled Cambodia in the late 1970s, responsible for killing more than one million people.

In the aftermath of the regime a lot of children were left without parents and today more than half of Cambodia’s population is under 35. You don’t see very many elderly people around.

In the capital, tourists can go and visit the Killing Fields – where mass killings took place during the regime and graves were filled with bodies – to learn more about what went on.

When I visit the site, I notice a tree that has been fitted with a sign that says babies were killed during the regime by being smashed against it and tossed into graves. Another sign in front of a large tree says that speakers had been hung from its branches and music blasted to drown out victims’ screams.

Staring at the ground, I notice a human bone poking out from the dirt. When it rains apparently more can be seen, and teeth too. A sign warns visitors not to step on the bones.

I am later told that many young Cambodians grew up knowing little about the regime and that a law had been passed in 2009 that meant the history of the Khmer Rouge had to be taught in high schools.

photo_1-1

A friend I’m travelling with tells me that she can’t believe how much Cambodia has developed since she was last there in 2007 and according to the Cambodian National Institute of Statistics (NIS) the poverty rate has dropped significantly since 2007. Despite this impressive score card, the gap between the rich and poor is still vast and many people still have limited access to basic necessities like food, electricity and working rubbish systems. And you don’t have to look far to see it

We visit a small lakeside village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh where there are small houses sitting on stilts above the ground. Underneath the houses lies a large, soupy lake: a mixture of sewage, rubbish and water. A flattened cigarette packet on the ground reads “Fine”.

Across town is a huge government building called the Council of Ministers’ Headquarters. Its modern exterior shines brightly in the mid-afternoon sun, exuding prosperity and wealth.

Just next to it is another government building with a huge pyramid-like structure at its centre. I am told this building was paid for by China.

The buildings looks out over a wide valley called the Boeung Kak lake. There is no water in the lake because it was filled with sand five years ago to make way for development. Today it looks dusty and depressing.

A Cambodian man named Phearak who is travelling with us tells me that he used to go to the lake with his parents as a little boy.

He now lives in Australia so it’s the first time he’s seen it since the lake’s been filled.

“To come here now, it’s very sad,” he says.

The Cambodian government is big on development and has grand plans be a middle-income country by 2030. Cambodia’s burgeoning middle class has also brought with it a new attraction to owning shiny objects and an obsession with social status.

“People are very materialistic here,” Phearak says. “You can see lots of people have fancy mobile phones. It’s about status; about fitting in.”

screen_shot_2015-03-26_at_8.42.01_pm

We travel out of Phnom Penh for a few days and on the way we stop at a temple with more than 300 steps to the top.

There are a whole lot of Cambodian children hanging around the bottom of the steps holding fans. They follow us as we walk up, fanning us until we tell them to stop.

At the top, sweaty tourists sit mopping their brows and gazing happily out over majestic views that seem to stretch into infinity.

Weaving among them are the loyal fanners who seem undeterred by the tourists’ reluctance to cough up any money.

Through an interpreter I ask one of them what she is doing up there. She tells me she has school in the morning but comes to the temple in the afternoon to make money. She asks us what we’re doing and we tell her we’re on our way to another town.

She tells us to be careful and says that it could be risky. There is a chance that we could have our stomachs cut open and our kidneys stolen. I wonder where she got that idea from

Back on the road, I can’t stop thinking about that little girl and what kind of life she’ll lead. We’ll be heading back in Phnom Penh in a few days. It seems like a place where poverty is common and people can easily fall through the cracks. But it’s also the most prosperous city in Cambodia and has a large number of schools and universities.

photo_4_1

 

Residents claim threats over anti-dam slogans

9 Apr

Women’s Rights Activists Dispersed by Police

8 Apr
BY Kuch Naren | April 8, 2015 (Cambodia Daily)

About 100 women’s rights activists were prevented from riding tuk-tuks to the National Assembly and the Phnom Penh headquarters of the ruling CPP on Tuesday, but successfully delivered a petition to the opposition CNRP demanding female representation on the reformed National Election Committee (NEC).

The activists gathered in the morning at a roundabout near the National Assembly along with musical instruments—planning to partake in traditional Trot dancing during their demonstration—but were blocked by police.

“The key purpose of gathering today was to perform Trot dancing…to eradicate bad luck among our parliamentarians, and especially to submit a petition requesting that women be selected as new members of the NEC,” said Thida Khus, director of the Committee to Promote Women in Politics, which organized the march.

Asked why the demonstrators had not been allowed to deliver their petition, CPP spokesman Sok Ey San said the activists had strayed from acceptable means of petitioning.

 

 

When the Neak Loeung ferry route is terminated Monday, the community of beggars and sellers that has grown around it will scatter in search of an alternate income.

7 Apr

BY MATT BLOMBERG AND OUCH SONY (Cambodia Daily)

VIJ2015014H0141

Young men ride the Ta Prohm ferry across the Mekong River on Wednesday. The new Tsubasa Bridge is seen in the background. (John Vink)

 

LOEUK DEK district, Kandal province – Before the sun casts its light on the Neak Loeung ferry port every morning, commuters begin arriving in buses and cars, on motorbikes and horse-carts. At the crest of the riverbank, chains slung between concrete pillars bring them to a halt. And there, even before their engines are shut down, the peddlers pounce.

Teenagers mob the cars, offering drinks, sweets and cigarettes. Elderly women weave through mazes of vehicles, balancing trays of bugs or betel leaves on their heads. Sunglasses are for sale. Eggs of all sizes. DVDs, donuts and toy dogs with heads that bobble.

And then there are the beggars: toddlers with runny noses wearing no more than grime, blind men with big smiles, and spindly old women who survived civil war and genocide only to end up pleading with strangers for cash.

About 60 km southeast of Phnom Penh, where the Mekong splits Kandal from Prey Veng province, the Neak Loeung ferry crossing turns thousands of people into captive consumers each day as they queue for a boat to take them across the river.

VIJ2015014H0116

The area has also become a second home for those seeking to sell to and beg from these crowds. Many of the hundreds who beat the sun there every day are following in their parents’ footsteps. Some families arrived as soon as the ferry service resumed in 1979. Now, though, they all need somewhere else to go.

A few kilometers upstream from the chaos of the ferry landing, Prime Minister Hun Sen will on Monday open the Tsubasa Bridge, a $127-million suspension bridge that will significantly cut the travel time from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City and fill a vital gap in the planned expressway that will link Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok via Poipet City.

For those who have carved out a living around the ferry landing, this new bridge represents the end of an era.

“Now, I don’t know what to do,” said Chou Nang, a 67-year-old who has worked the dock since 1979. “When the ferries stop crossing, the cars will stop coming and I will have no one to sell to.”

VIJ2015014H0173

A fixture at Neak Loeung since it reopened for civilians following the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Ms. Nang has an exalted position in the hierarchy here. She sits out of the way of the moving vehicles, smiling from behind a neatly rolled stack of betel leaves, which she sells wholesale to other women who then zigzag between cars looking for buyers.

Born here in Loeuk Dek district in the 1940s, Ms. Nang can divide her life into three distinct periods: youth, war and working the ferry landing. All of them, she has spent at Neak Loeung. She recalls the August 1973 bombing of the port by the U.S., her husband being hauled away by the Khmer Rouge in 1978, never to be seen again, and Vietnamese troops coming across the Mekong in the days before the Khmer Rouge were toppled.

“At first I was scared,” she said of that day in late 1978. “But those who spoke Vietnamese told me that there was no need to be scared, as they had come to help, to liberate us.”

While vivid, those memories are all distant now, as Ms. Nang prepares to move, happily, into a fourth phase of life: “I will let my son look after me,” she said.

Though she holds no resentment toward the bridge that will force her relocation, the timing of its opening, a week before Khmer New Year, is disappointing. Over the Khmer New Year and Pchum Ben holidays, the chaos increases significantly in Neak Loeung as thousands of families leave Phnom Penh for the southeastern provinces of Prey Veng and Svay Rieng. Vehicles queue for kilometers. Families sleep overnight. The road turns into a shantytown. And the locals reap a windfall.

“On a normal day, I can earn 10,000 riel [about $2.50], but during the holiday, in three or four days I can earn 500,000 to 600,000 riel [$125 to $150],” she said, adding that she brings a sleeping mat and a mosquito net so she can cater around the clock to the holiday crowds.

Pouch Sarath, a 52-year-old ferry captain from Peamro district on the Prey Veng side of the Mekong, was completing his final shift at the helm of one of the four state-owned vessels on Wednesday.

As he guided the 140-ton Ta Prohm on its five-minute journey across the river, he said he was unsure exactly what the opening of the new bridge would mean for his future.

Along with the Peace 2, the Vishnu and the Samaki, the Ta Prohm is set to be relocated to Phnom Penh, where it will be put to work on the route that links the city to Arei Khsat in Kandal, according to provincial governor Mao Phirun.

Mr. Sarath said that, as a staunch civil servant, he “would not be opposed if the state assigns me somewhere else.”

“I am a little bit dissatisfied because I rely on this salary, but there is nothing we can do,” he added. “The country needs to develop.”

VIJ2015014H0021

Damnak Toek (A Drop of Water, in English) is a local NGO with a child-focused project operating at Neak Loeung. In its 2013 report, “Neak Loeung, Cambodia: Street Children Survey,” the organization says that, in one day, 247 street children were identified around the dusty port that connects Phnom Penh to two of the country’s poorest provinces.

Damnak Toek offers a drop-in center, education, vocational training and medical care for children and their families in the area. With the opening of the bridge, however, it is unclear how the program will evolve when commuters no longer have to stop and wait for a ferry.

“The area will see change, dynamic change,” said Sebastien Marot, executive director of Friends International, which partners with Damnak Toek in its Neak Loeung project. “We are wondering how it will change, and we are working so we are ready for change.”

According to Damnak Toek, 34 percent of 160 street children surveyed at Neak Loeung will move to Phnom Penh when the bridge is opened. Just 9 percent said they will stay in Neak Loeung. A further 30 percent said their future

.VIJ2015014H0045

On Wednesday, Tha Chanthib, 20, took a break from selling drinks in the searing sun. Sporting a big-brimmed floppy hat and long-sleeved floral shirt, she said she began her career at Neak Loeung as a 10-year-old selling cigarettes and candy, and that the hundreds of sellers and beggars who depended on stalled commuters here are like a family.

“This place will become quiet,” she said. “I will miss all my friends—the people who sell here together—and I will miss the bucket that I used to hold.”

With no formal education, a place in one of the country’s garment factories seems likely for Ms. Chanthib. “I don’t believe that it will be better than my job now,” she said. “But I have nothing else to do.”

cam-map-neak-loeung

Thirteen-year-old Ho Sophean dropped out of school about six months ago to sell bottled water at Neak Loeung. Already, she is one of the best in the business, eagerly darting between cars and returning to the shade to refill her cooler more often than most.

As she joked with her colleagues about stealing customers from one another, she said she would miss that daily battle when the bridge opens. The cornfields about 1 km from the ferry landing, she said, were likely her next destination. “I have no other means to make money.”

VIJ2015014H0199

For about 500 people, serving the thousands of commuters who cross the river at Neak Loeung each day is key to survival, according to Chum Vuthy, a government employee who sells ferry tickets. He says that hundreds more have already left the area to work in factories, anticipating the breakdown of their business. But sewing clothes or gluing shoes is not an option for Hieb Wei.

Mr. Wei, 34, is almost completely blind and is cared for by his aunt and uncle on the eastern bank of the Mekong. Each morning he rides the first ferry to the western bank, where he teams up with Srey Pov, a boisterous 16-year-old girl who guides him through the traffic to collect donations from sympathetic travelers, which they then split 50/50.

“I can see just enough to make sure that she gives me half,” Mr. Wei said, laughing.

VIJ2015014H0208

Business at Neak Loeung is relatively good for Mr. Wei and his adolescent sidekick. While the majority of sellers report earnings of about $2.50 a day, Mr. Wei said he was pocketing between $5 and $7.50 in each 14-hour shift, with Srey Pov getting the same.

As he sat on a wooden bed with two other blind men, he said that when the new bridge eliminates his meal ticket he would search for an NGO that might be able to offer him some assistance. Still smiling, Mr. Wei said he was not bitter about the impending change.

“I worry about having nothing to eat in the coming days,” he said. “But I don’t feel angry because we have to develop the nation.”

 

 

 

 

 

At Bridge Opening, Hun Sen Praises Japan, Self

7 Apr

BY OUCH SONY AND MATT BLOMBERG(Cambodia Daily) | APRIL 7, 2015

LOEUK DEK DISTRICT, Kandal province – A fleet of more than 80 luxury vehicles loaded with dignitaries and their security details made the first trip across Cambodia’s newest and longest bridge Monday before it was opened to locals, who quickly caused its first traffic jam.

The 2.2-km Tsubasa Bridge—built with $127 million in Japanese grants—was officially inaugurated by Prime Minister Hun Sen here Monday morning. Spanning the Mekong River, it will connect Phnom Penh by road to the provinces of Svay Rieng and Prey Veng, and to neighboring Vietnam.

cam-photo-front

Speaking to a crowd of more than 8,000 people gathered near the bridge, a jovial Mr. Hun Sen noted the transience of the Japanese prime ministership—the country has had 18 leaders since Mr. Hun Sen took power in 1985—and then thanked the country for its continued support of the development of Cambodia.

“The important thing with Japan is that [it] has consensus in politics,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “No matter which party is ruling or who is the prime minister, the aid to Cambodia keeps coming, continuously.”

“Long live Cambodian-Japanese friendship.”

Peppering his praise for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with jokes, Mr. Hun Sen also explained the economic importance of the Tsubasa Bridge, which is part of a long-term plan to build a road link between Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, via Phnom Penh and Poipet City.

“The bridge has great value in addition to the link within Cambodia. It also provides links on a regional level,” he said, going on to explain how he would forever be remembered as the man who made its construction possible.

“No matter what, history will record who came to open, who came to connect and who came to inaugurate [the bridge],” he said. “Even 1,000 years after I die, my name will still be here.”

The roads between Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok will become part of what is to be known as Asean Highway 1, set for completion in 2020, according to the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is helping fund the highway.

cam-photo-bridge-inside

At Monday’s ceremony, JICA president Akihiko Tanaka sat behind Mr. Hun Sen among a large group of political, military and business heavyweights.

“I hope and believe that the Tsubasa Bridge…not only strengthens the relationship between Cambodia and Japan, but also plays an important role as a symbol of peace and development..in the region,” Mr. Tanaka said.

Following the formalities, Mr. Hun Sen led the assembled crowds on a 1-km walk to the Tsubasa’s entrance, where a ribbon was cut and hundreds of red, white and blue balloons were released into the air.

Related

Ferried Away

Dozens of luxury cars carrying deputy prime ministers, ministers, military commanders, lawmakers and bodyguards then made their way across the bridge, pausing in the middle so their occupants could pose for photos over the Mekong.

Then, at about 10:40 a.m., the dignitaries made way for thousands of local residents who had lined up, mostly on motorbikes, to be among the first people to traverse the bridge.

Put to the test for the first time, the two-lane bridge quickly became clogged with traffic and stayed that way for more than an hour.

About 1 km downstream, the Neak Loeung ferry, which ended its operations Monday, ran until the bridge was officially opened, but by midday the boats had stopped and the landing was all but deserted.

One family of vendors had just finished packing their food stall into a makeshift tractor near the ferry port. As they drove away, possibly for the last time, a young girl clinging to a piece of corrugated iron in the back called happily, “We are going to cross the new bridge!”

CNRP Name Used in Land Grab

5 Apr

Sunday, 05 April 2015; News by Khmer Times / Seng Siphan and Ros Chanveasna

1428245564-t

Prak Vanna (Identified by Ms. Koy) hiding his face behind his phone so that his real identity is not revealed. Photo: Seng Siphan

 

TECHO PONGROK, Kampot province (Khmer Times) – The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) has built up such a brand for championing villagers in land disputes that unscrupulous people now are now hijacking the opposition party’s name and prestige to grab land.
That is the view from the hot and dusty, dry season fields here, 125 kilometers southwest of the air conditioned halls of the National Assembly.
A new actor in a land dispute here is Prak Vanna, a man in a safari suit who drives down dirt roads in a  SUV. He presents himself to villagers as an aide to CNRP vice president Kem Sokha.
Under his instigation a claim by a few dozen villagers ballooned in a few short months into a claim by “489 landless families” for almost 40 square kilometers of farmland and forest allocated five years ago to companies for plantation agriculture.
One problem: Mr. Vanna does not work for the CNRP leader.
Fake CNRP Credentials
He seems to be using the CNRP name and slogans to grab land for himself and confederates.
Confronted by a Khmer Times reporter, Mr, Vanna acknowledged: “I had bought forestry land from local people in Pongrok village area. I am not a personal assistant to the first deputy president of the National Assembly, Kem Sokha. I just help the local people after the Indian company cleared their land.”

 

However checks with various authorities revealed that there was no Indian company operating there.
When the land was allocated by the Environment Ministry for this Economic Land Concession (ELC), there were about 50 village families who claimed parcels of a large expanse that was to become a palm oil plantation.
In 2012, when Order Number 01 sent student volunteers into the countryside to survey the land and settle land disputes, the number rose to 80 families. One year later, there are almost 150 families. Many entered the ELC land to set up their own plots.
Industry of Squatters?
Cambodia seems to be following in the path of parts of rural Brazil where land titles can be tenuous. There, in what Brazil’s media call “the industry of squatters,” poor people invade unused or fallow land. To avoid social conflict, the government buys out the rancher or farmer, and gives titles free of charge to squatting families. The squatters then sell their new titles to an investor, and move on to the next land occupation.
Here, Kampot provincial authorities are trying to resolve this land dispute before it grows out of control.
“To date, we have been resolving the land disputes between the three ELC companies and local people in accordance with the legal procedures in the Kingdom,” Mr. Chieng Phalla, Deputy Governor of Kampot province, told the Khmer Times.
He said that two years ago,  provincial authorities  measured land and granted titles to villagers based on actual land occupied or cultivated  following a government regulation, Until June 2013, student teams measured land for  people.
“In fact, there are in reality  only 150 families, who have conflicts with the  companies,” Mr. Phalla continued. “But there are people, who, with backing from hidden hands, sent various letters in 2014 to the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Land Management and the Land Dispute Resolution Committee to put pressure on the Kampot Provincial office.
476 Families in a Village of 150?
“Now they claim that there are 476 families there,” he continued “It is not the  truth, because Techo Pongrok village has only 150 families living there.”
“The number of villagers who supposedly had problems with the companies kept increasing because there are masterminds and agent provocateurs  behind those local people to incite them to grab  forestry land in order to get benefit – that’s breaking our laws,” he said.
Khmer Times learned from various sources that Ms. Kak Seng, a candidate for village chief here,  influenced “powerful friends”  in Phnom Penh to induce high ranking officials, from General Khieu Sopheak, Spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, Deputy Prime Minister and Head of National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution Mr. Bin Chhin and Secretary of State at the  Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to send letters late last year to the Governor of Kampot Province, Mr. Khouy Khun Huor.
The letters urged the Governor to revolve the “plight” of 476 families in Techo Pongrok Village who supposedly had land claims against the ELCs.
ELC Clears Land for Land Grabbers?
According to records compiled by the student survey volunteers, Ms. Kak Seng moved here in 2012. In recent meetings, she has been increasingly bold in spelling out her land grab scheme.
“Let us thank the ELC,” she said at one meeting, while Mr. Vanna, the supposed CNRP official nodded approvingly. Referring to village’s “476 landless families,” she said: “ They have made our task easier by clearing the land for us to plant our crops. We will soon overthrow the corrupt village, commune, district and provincial authorities and charge them for corruption and seize the land which is rightfully ours.”
At another meeting, last Tuesday, she told about 50 villagers in attendance: “The commune chief is corrupted. The village chief is corrupt.”
“If people want to get land, they should vote for me,” she continued. “Mr. San Kriya, the deputy village chief, has run away because he fears us.”
Referring to Prak Vanna, the “CNRP aide” and his colleagues, she said: “They are the people’s saviours by coming here to help build roads and resolve the land issues. They will not leave unless the issues are successfully resolved.”
Backed by a fellow instigator, Iem Sokhal, she told the audience: “If anyone wants land, you have to pay 100,000 riel. Anyone from anywhere. You must stand up and demonstrate against the sanctioned decision from the district and provincial governors to sell land to companies.”
The following day, on April 1, Ms Kak Seng went from house to house in the village registering names for a census. According to villagers, she promised that the CNRP will give the village a four classroom school if she is elected village chief.
Block the Excavators?
Iem Sokhal, her colleague, is collecting money from villagers to pursue their land claim. He also is inciting villagers to block the excavators  of an ELC owned by VG Plantations from digging boundary trenches under the supervision of Kampot provincial land officials and local officials.
This week, the conflict threatens to become as hot as the dry season temperatures.
“In other provinces, district and provincial governors got arrested for this, so what are we waiting for?,” Ms. Kak Seng said last week at the meeting, urging villagers to take action. “ Don’t let the environment personnel come to our province anymore.
Our land is 3,950 hectares, and there are 476 families.”
Returnees from Thailand Boost Numbers? Her mysterious ally, Mr. Vanna raises the number by a dozen, saying there are 489 because some local people came back from Thailand.
“I really believe that there are also people from Phnom Penh and other provinces who have bought land from local people,” he told the Khmer Times.
“I too bought five hectares of land there from a former Khmer Rouge soldier in 1992 after they had integrated into the government.”
He asserted that he will bring a top Ministry of Environment official to see the supposedly disputed area in the VG Plantations ELC, which was granted by the Environment Ministry.
He also claimed that the 01 Order from Prime Minister Hun Sen about marking land states that if the people have already cleared and planted land – even if it is in a National Park, or in an ELC – the government.
“We came here on behalf of the Province and Nation to get full and real information about the issue, after villagers had already filed complains with us,” Mr. Vanna can be heard saying in a recording of last Tuesday’s meeting here. He also promised villagers that his group planned to a build a 35 km road from here to Koh Sla.
Former Khmer Rouge Stronghold Mr. Phalla, the Kampot province deputy governor, dismissed these allegations, noting that integration of the Khmer Rouge in the area only took place in 1998.
“In 1992, even though lands were allotted for free, no one took them because these areas were former Khmer Rouge strongholds and heavily forested,” he said. “Therefore no one could grab or buy the land there.”
Licadho View
Mr. Am Sam Ath, chief of technical investigation department of the human rights protection group Licadho, agreed.
“If there are some people who grabbed or bought the forest land, that’s illegal activities as forest land is  state land and as such the people cannot buy or grab it,” he said.
“Separately, if state lands were granted  Economic Land Concession licenses by Cambodia’s government to private companies to run their businesses,  and there are now people who try to grab new land from those ELCs after private companies had invested on it, these people cannot be granted land titles,” he said.
But, but the instigators here are acting as if the law does not extend to the fields and forests.
Local Officials Let Problem Grow
“The current situation at Pongrok Village is very explosive,” said a high ranking Kampot Village official who asked not to be identified.  “The village and commune chiefs are partly to be blamed as they used politics as a reason not to take action on these intruders,  which kept increasing in numbers. They  hid complaints sent by the village chief, who had sent them only when she could not keep it under wraps to the commune chief, who did not pay much attention and kept those complaints.”
“This matter surfaced last year when one of the ELCs, the only one out of three working there in accordance to the law and agreement signed with the government, got hold of the documents and brought it to the Provincial level and Governor directly,” he recalled.
“They have been seeking land titles for the ELC granted in 2011, for 6,718 hectares,” he said. “And although the land boundary was marked out in 2013 and 2014, no further action was taken until the ELC went to higher authorities as encroachment increased. As the company expanded its planting activities, new villagers surfaced to claim that  the ELC holder was grabbing villagers land.”
“This is a strange situation, as the company has built roads and bridges, which the villagers use  freely,” he continued. “And the company has some 250 employees. who we understand, are quite ready to stand up to the actions of the anarchic people. The employees’ ‘rice bowl’ is at stake.”
Days ahead will tell if there will be steps toward resolution or confrontation.

1-2(3)

k Koy, chief of Techo Pongrok Village, filed several complaints against land grabbers. Photo: Seng Siphan

3-Map_Lc_and_Villager_land

Map of VG Plantations’ ELC showing developed areas. Red areas indicate land claimed by villagers. Markings also indicate boundary marking works currently taking place. Map: Supplied

 

UN Experts Detail Extensive Rights Violations

3 Apr

By Holly Robertson,The Cambodia Daily , April 3, 2015

A U.N. human rights panel on Thursday evening released a report on the government’s adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), taking aim at a series of violations including impunity for extrajudicial killings, excessive use of force by authorities and a lack of judicial independence.

A Cambodian delegation appeared before the Human Rights Committee in Geneva last month, where it presented an update on the country’s human rights situation. Although the Cambodian officials took a combative approach to the committee’s inquiries—with chairman Fabian Omar Salvioli remarking that the delegation was “wasting an opportunity”—the committee began its report by expressing its appreciation for the government’s cooperation and listing a number of laws adopted by Cambodia as “positive aspects.”

Yet the remainder of the document addressed serious human rights violations, including the torture of people being held in police custody in order to extract confessions, overcrowded and inadequate prisons, and the impunity afforded to the powerful.

“The Committee is concerned by reports that no one has been held accountable for the extrajudicial killings, allegedly mainly perpetrated by the army, police and gendarmerie, in Cambodia since the 1991 Paris Agreements,” it said.

It went on to note concerns over “reports of killings of journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors” as well as their harassment and intimidation.

The experts also raised the excessive use of force by authorities on three occasions in the past two years: during opposition CNRP protests on September 15, 2013, at a protest at SL Garment factory on November 12, 2013, which saw a bystander killed on both occasions, and the violent suppression of garment worker protests on Veng Sreng Street in January 2014, which left five people dead.

“The Committee is further concerned by the lack of any specific detailed information on the investigations carried out into these cases,” the report continues.

The arbitrary arrest of vagrants, racial discrimination against Vietnamese and gender-based violence were all also cited as ongoing human rights issues in the country.

Cambodia is due to provide an update on its implementation of the committee’s recommendations within a year.

Construction Firm to Fortify Crack in White Building

3 Apr

BY SEK ODOM | APRIL 3, 2015 (By Cambodia)

A Malaysian construction company building a hotel next to Phnom Penh’s iconic “White Building” has agreed to fortify a four-story crack that appeared in the apartment block in February, deputy municipal governor Chreang Sophan said Thursday.

After meeting with Rithy Samnang, the owner of the planned hotel; Biaxis, the construction firm; and residents of the White Building, Mr. Sophan said that it had been agreed that Biaxis would build a steel brace in order to preserve the aging building’s integrity and improve safety for residents.

“After the construction company builds over the crack, we hope that the land will not move anymore,” Mr. Sophan said, adding that Biaxis would have to guarantee the brace before it would be allowed to further the hotel project.

However, when asked if Biaxis would be required to compensate residents in the south end of the White Building whose apartments have been affected by the crack, Mr. Sophan said the crack was not the firm’s responsibility.

“It is broken because it is an old building. Don’t you know how old that building is?” he said.

Neither Biaxis nor Mr. Samnang could be reached for comment.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,855 other followers

%d bloggers like this: