IFC Ombudsman to Help Settle Phnom Penh Airport Land Dispute

Representatives for the hundreds of families facing eviction from homes around Phnom Penh International Airport have agreed to let the compliance ombudsman of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private investment arm of the World Bank, mediate a solution to the land dispute with the government and the airport’s private operator.

In a report dated January and released last week, the IFC ombudsman says the government and Cambodia Airports, the private company that manages the airport, also agreed to let them mediate talks, but offers no dates or timeframe for a resolution.

Fifty-nine families filed a complaint with the IFC ombudsman in June after local authorities threatened nearly 400 households with eviction in late 2012, just ahead of the arrival of world leaders attending two regional summits in Phnom Penh. The IFC’s involvement stems from having lent $10 million to a $72 million project to upgrade three airports around the country—all run by Cambodia Airports—including creating a longer runway in Phnom Penh to handle larger planes.

Families living around the perimeter of the airport claim that local authorities give them official permission to live on the land and build homes, and were now violating their land rights by trying to force them out.

The government accuses the families of living on the land illegally.

The IFC ombudsman’s report lays out the basics of the dispute and notes that all sides—the families, the government and Cambodia Airports—agreed to let the ombudsman mediate negotiations.

“During [the ombudsman’s] dispute resolution process, the [ombudsman] provides neutral mediation/facilitation and convenes separate and joint meetings as needed,” the report says. “[The ombudsman] will work with the parties to assist them in agreeing on a timeline, process and schedule for meetings.”

The ombudsman’s local facilitator, lawyer Kong Phallack, did not reply to a request for comment.

Chray Nim, one of the residents facing eviction, said Monday that she was hopeful the ombudsman could help.

“The government promised to pay compensation based on the market price during a meeting last week, but we do not believe that they can solve the problem for all of us because of the thousands of families that have lost their land [around the country] because of government development,” she said.

Yin Kea, head of administration for Pur Senchey district, said the number of families to be evicted and exactly what compensation they would get were not discussed at the meeting last week, and such issues could not be decided until the extra land needed to expand the runway was fully demarcated.

“We do not yet know when the removals will start or what compensation we will provide, but the project will start soon,” he said. “We will negotiate after we identify the number of affected families.”

Say Sokhan, an undersecretary of state at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said officials would meet next week to set an exact date on which they would start to demarcate the land needed for the planned expansion.

Cambodia Airports spokesman Khek Norinda said his company was hopeful it could settle the dispute amicably as it did with families involved in a similar land conflict around the airport in Sihanoukville, which the IFC ombudsman also helped to resolve.

“With the [ombudsman] mediation, there’s an opportunity for a constructive resolution similar to what has been achieved at Sihanoukville airport,” he said.

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