UN expert 'very concerned' about Phnom Penh evictees

A UN human rights envoy on Wednesday expressed serious concerns about the plight of more than 100 families living in squalor in the Cambodian capital after a violent forced eviction at the hands of the police.

"The condition in which you have been forced to live doesn't seem to be adequate for the 21st century," Surya Subedi, special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, said after meeting the displaced residents in Phnom Penh.

Some 117 families are living in unsanitary conditions under the staircases of nearby buildings after their homes in the Borei Keila district were bulldozed in January and they refused to move to an out-of-town location.

"I am concerned, very concerned, about your situation," the UN expert told the evicted residents, some of whom wept openly as they pleaded for his help.

"It doesn't seem to be only a human rights matter but also a humanitarian matter," said Subedi, on his seventh trip to the kingdom, adding that he would raise the matter with government officials.

The Cambodian government has faced mounting criticism in recent years over forced evictions around the country that have sparked protests and displaced tens of thousands of mostly poor people.

The Borei Keila eviction was one of the most violent to date with residents lobbing bricks and Molotov cocktails at police who fired back with tear gas and rubber bullets, resulting in a number of injuries and arrests.

Land disputes are a major problem in Cambodia, where land ownership was abolished during the 1975-1979 rule of the communist Khmer Rouge and many legal documents were lost during that time.

The April 26 murder of a high-profile environmental activist, who dedicated his life to protecting Cambodia's rapidly disappearing forests, has added to the controversy over land conflicts.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday announced that the country was temporarily suspending the granting of land to companies for private development, known as economic land concessions (ELCs), a move that was welcomed by the European Union.

"The EU hopes the review of the ELCs will include efforts to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable groups," the EU delegation in Phnom Penh said in a statement released on Wednesday.

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