Cambodia does not push the poor from their homes: Govt
I wish to respond to the reprint of a news article by the Straits Times entitled "Cambodian Poor Pushed Out of Their Homes," published in The Nation of Thailand on 26 February 2013.
There is no doubt that the article is full of hearsay, lies and manipulations of facts. When reading this article, it is clear that the intended message is to demonise Cambodia, the ruling government and the prime minister of the country. I must say that it is sad for both the Straits Times and The Nation, as leading newspapers in Singapore and Thailand, respectively, to engage in this politics of "inventing reality" by twisting the real facts, manipulated by the opposition circles to discredit the Cambodian government.
In response to this news article, I wish to clarify the following points:
First, to make the title of the article more attractive and like a sound bite, it has entitled it "Cambodian Poor Pushed Out of Their Homes." For Cambodia, there is no such a policy, and the government does not engage in this kind of activities, as has been alleged and accused by the media here. No Cambodian citizen had ever been pushed out of his/her home, because Cambodia is a state of law, not a lawless society.
Second, to get the right facts, it is important for any professional journalist to check and verify the source of information. By quoting the sources from a few local NGOs, which have strong political affiliation with the opposition, and without verifying the sources with the competent authorities, the quoted information is simply slanderous. For professional journalists, news and information must be treated with care, and they do seriously check and verify such information first. To state that more than "... 400,000 Cambodians have been evicted from their homes..." is to blatantly lie or manufacture this number. How did one come up with this number? In fact, Cambodia does not have any policy of eviction at all. It is a total prevarication.
Third, it is ridiculous to say that the "rising voices of civil society have forced ... (Samdech Techo) Hun Sen to address the land issues ahead of the general election in July." How can "rising voices of civil society" compel what they called "strongman" of Cambodia? Again, it is absolutely nonsense. It was Samdech Hun Sen's initiative, which has been taken place for some time already; and it was not done just for the upcoming election per se. Samdech Techo Hun Sen has paid close attention to the land issues. While the prime minister has appointed his son, it was not Hun Manet, as wrongly stated. It was Hun Manith, who also happened to be young, in order for him to work closely with the volunteer students to ensure that the program would be carried out effectively. The Cambodian government planned to demarcate a total of 1.8 million hectares of land for 500,000 families. Since the program was launched on 14 June 2012, a total of 2,016 volunteer students have been dispatched to carry out the work. Until now, 674,022 hectares have been demarcated and a total of 126,141 land titles granted to the landless families.
Fourth, the article falsely argued that "many of those evicted from Phnom Penh live in the countryside, often in mere shacks" and at night some of them "sleep on the footpaths..." Where are they? If some of 400,000 evicted from Phnom Penh are sleeping on the footpaths, it would be a serious problem for the country. The number and their argument are simply distorted; they are only in the minds of those who have tried to concoct this reality.
Fifth, the Boeung Kak Lake area was a state public land but some of the people had tried to occupy it illegally as temporary shelters in 1992. The authorities had not issued any land titles to them. As a rule of law, the government had to re-establish law and order in the area. In 2006, the government started the development of the area by working with the private sector to transform the area into a commercial, cultural residential area. To do so, a total of 3,900 families (who had illegally occupied parts of the area) were offered by the government with three choices: cash compensation; relocation with flat and cash; and on-site development. In 2011, Samdech Techo Prime Minister decided to set aside 12.44 hectares of land for on-site development.
A total of 3,882 out of 3,900 families voluntarily accepted one of the three choices offered by the government. Today, 18 families have still refused to accept any offers and they have continued to illegally occupy the state's public land. Therefore, to state that "there are still no land titles for the Boeung Kak Lake community" is absolutely libellous. Many land titles had already been given to those who had agreed to accept, with the total area of 12.44 hectares of land.
Sixth, as far as the 15 people concerned, they were detained and then later released because of their violent acts against the competent authorities. On 22 May 2012, those people tried to hurt the competent authorities by using saws, hammers, axes, nails, nail removers, wood pillars, banners and other construction materials. Among the 15 people who were detained, there was no one who was young at all. The claim of having arrested a 13-year-old girl is completely baseless and preposterous.
Seventh, with regard to the alleged approval by the government of "at least 66 concessions last year covering a total 381,121 hectares… despite the moratorium announced in May," there is no evidence at all to prove this. Last year, the government did not approve any new economic land concession. So, it is embarrassing to read the newspaper article which did not do its homework properly and well.
After reviewing point by point of all the key arguments contained in the newspaper, which was initially published in the Straits Times and then reprinted in The Nation, I have come to the conclusion that the news article is completely full of lies and calumnies.
I wish to request your newspaper to print this reply in full. Thank you. Truly yours,
Under Secretary of State