The following was first published on Waging Nonviolence:
A lesson learnt: one does not simply Skype activists in Cambodia. First, there were connection problems, then video problems, then audio feedback problems, but we finally got it working. After all, the struggle against Internet bandwidth is nothing compared to the struggle that activists Ee Sarom and Tep Vanny have been involved in at Boeung Kak Lake.
This 90-hectare lake in Cambodia’s capital of Phonm Penh used to be a lush open space. But, in 2007, the Cambodian government signed a 99-year lease with Shukaku Inc. and began to reclassify the public land as private land for development without consultation with the community that calls Boeung Kak Lake home.
When the Khmer Rouge was in power from 1975 to 1979, people were evicted from their homes. Their land titles and records were destroyed, and everything was declared as property of the state. When the regime collapsed, Cambodians tried to pick up the pieces as best they could, settling down and rebuilding their homes. The lack of documentation, though, has made such people particularly vulnerable to land grabs and evictions.
Recognizing this problem, the Cambodian government declared in 2001 that people would be eligible for land titles to their property if they could prove that they had been living there for at least five years. The move was supported by the World Bank, which loaned Cambodia up to $70 million a year to facilitate the program. The people of Boeung Kak Lake, though, were left out, and the land was leased.
“The authorities only offered $8,500 as compensation for us to move away, or we could be given a new house. But the new house is 25 kilometers outside of Phnom Penh, with very poor infrastructure. It is far away from schools and work,” explains Tep Vanny, a resident of Boeung Kak Lake. “No one wanted to move away but villagers were threatened by the use of force and sand was pumped into our homes. Men with rifles came to my house and threatened us. They wanted us to move out in a week’s time.”
In August 2011, the World Bank announced that they had failed in securing titles for the residents of Boeung Kak Lake and therefore would not resume lending money to Cambodia until an agreement between the government and the residents could be reached. In response, President Hun Sen promised that 12.44 hectares would be given to the community at the lake, and that the families would have titles to the land. However, the land was never clearly demarcated, and around 90 families were left without titles. Many of the titles that were given are also in dispute, with allegations of corruption.
Shukaku Inc., which a BBC report pointed out is “owned by a senator from the governing Cambodian People’s Party,” began pumping sand into the lake in 2008, turning what was once a green, lively tourist attraction into a brown pond prone to flooding. The community, though, is not giving up without a fight.
The following was first published on Waging Nonviolence: A lesson learnt: one does not simply Skype activists in Cambodia. First, there were connection problems, then video problems, then audio feedback problems,...
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