June 1 (Reuters) – Cambodian rights groups and farmers urged foreign donors on Tuesday to press the government to suspend land concessions to investors and use fair and lawful means to settle disputes.
Non-governmental organisations and landless farmers have accused Cambodia’s government of awarding a wave of concessions to foreign and local firms before evicting villagers from their land without negotiation or adequate compensation.
International donors have played a major role in the development of the impoverished country’s economy, although the government has regularly admonished donors critical of its policies and accused them of interference.
On Monday Cambodia’s parliament approved a five-year plan to achieve GDP growth of 6 percent annually, a figure that would require donors to provide $6 billion of foreign aid. [ID:nSGE64U078]
Sar Sok, a villager embroiled in a land dispute with a sugar company in Kompong Speu province, 48 km (30 miles) west of the capital Phnom Penh, asked donors to use their influence to force the government to change its approach.
“I ask donors to put pressure on the government on issues of human rights violations, forced evictions and land grabbing,” Sar Sok said, a day ahead of an international donors’ meeting in Phnom Penh.
In its drive to attract foreign investment, Cambodia has awarded big concessions to companies, mainly from China, Vietnam and South Korea, to run mines, power plants, farms and plantations for sugar, rice and rubber.
FORCED OFF THE LAND
However, rights groups say that has come at the expense of its people, with a sharp rise in the number of forced evictions by state officials profiting from the sale and leasing of farmland and urban real estate to foreign and local companies.
Cambodia’s government has denied the allegations, claiming evictions are lawful and compensation is more than adequate.
Many Cambodians struggle to prove their ownership of land since legal documents were often lost or destroyed during decades of civil war.
Chhit Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum on Cambodia, said donors would be presented with a list of recommendations on what to demand from the Cambodian government before agreeing to future development aid.
He said existing land concessions should be suspended pending a review, while the government should halt the arrest of locals involved in land disputes and commit to a transparent and legal process to ensure cases are dealt with fairly.
“Donors have given a lot of money for land reform but there are still land evictions,” Chhit Sam Ath said. “We won’t stay calm with donors who give money and stay quiet while villagers are crying.” (Editing by Martin Petty)