Aug 11, 2009
"We are getting poorer and poorer, and the rich are getting richer" - Pol Choeun, a villager from BattambangPhnom Penh - Hundreds of people were expected in Phnom Penh Tuesday to deliver to the government a petition protesting land grabs and forced evictions.
Organizers said representatives from 19 of the kingdom's 24 provinces and municipalities would hand the petition to the office of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the cabinet and three government ministries.
They said 200,000 hectares of land are at risk. The petitions contain more than 15,000 thumbprints, a standard way of signing in Cambodia, where literacy rates are low.
The land seizures are carried out by companies with government connections, politicians and the military. Development is the standard reason the government gives for granting these mining or land concessions.
In a statement, the organizers said forced evictions, displacement and landlessness are reaching 'crisis proportions.'
'Evictions and land confiscation continue in Cambodia, despite calls by the World Bank, the ADB [the Asian Development Bank], the UN and Cambodia's donors for the government to enact a moratorium on forced evictions and land confiscation until it establishes effective conflict resolution mechanisms and relocation procedures meeting international standards,' they wrote.
Organizers said communities are being driven into poverty by land grabs, and their efforts to find peaceful solutions are met with intimidation, court action and even violence from the police and military.
'When we try to protect our legal rights, we receive intimidation,' villager Pol Cheoun from Battambang province in western Cambodia said in the statement. 'We want the government and the donors to know what is happening. We are losing our land, forest and fisheries we depend on. We are getting poorer and poorer, and the rich are getting richer.'
A community activist from the northern province of Oddar Meanchey told the Cambodia Daily newspaper that he is in favour of development, 'but I don't want to see development lead people to tears,' he said.
Amnesty International wrote last year that 150,000 Cambodians are at risk of losing their land.