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Cambodia pulls plug on World Bank land dispute plan [... Hun Xen protecting the land-grabbers?]

Written By vibykhmer on Monday, September 7, 2009 | 4:41 PM

PHNOM PENH, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Cambodia said on Monday it had pulled out of a World Bank project aimed at settling land disputes, raising further concern about forced evictions in the impoverished Southeast Asian country.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said the World Bank's administrative procedures were too complicated and Cambodia no longer wished to be part of the project.

"We decided to end the partnership with the World Bank," Hun Sen said during a meeting devoted to the annual census report.

"And the remaining money...they can take it back," he said, adding that terms of the arrangement were "very complicated".

Land ownership is a controversial issue in Cambodia, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed.

A period of unprecedented growth since 2004 has boosted land prices, particularly in the capital Phnom Penh, leading to a spike in the number of evictions and triggering fierce criticism of the government by aid donors.

The World Bank joined other donors in July to ask the government to halt the evictions and the problem was raised again during a visit by its vice-president for East Asia and the Pacific Region, James Adams.

The scheme had provided $24.3 million for land management and administration projects over the last seven years, during which 1.1 million title deeds were issued.

The World Bank and rights groups said the termination of the deal, decided last week but not announced until Monday, would compound the problem of land-grabbing in Cambodia and hobble campaigns to eradicate poverty.

"The government wants to have the right to evict people and sell the land to companies, forcing people to sell for only small compensation," said Ou Vireak of the US-funded Cambodia Centre for Human Rights.

"It is a sad day for Cambodia, for the poor, and for the victims of the land grabbing."

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Martin Petty and Ron Popeski)

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