January 30, 2009 / 3:47 PM / 10 years ago

UN criticises forced evictions in Cambodia

GENEVA, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The Cambodian government is forcing tens of thousands of poor people from their homes in a grave breach of human rights, a U.N. investigator said on Friday.

Raquel Rolnik, United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, called for a halt to the evictions in the Southeast Asian country.

"The increase in forced evictions throughout Cambodia is very alarming," Rolnik said in a statement.

Cambodian police fired teargas to move more than 130 families last weekend from a Phnom Penh slum facing the Mekong River, without giving them prior notice, she said. It was the latest of a series of land disputes in the country where garment factories and hotels are springing up fast.

Rolnik, a Brazilian architect and urban planner, said those evicted from the site that the Cambodian government had sold to a private company should be compensated for losing their homes.

Witnesses said an elderly woman and a boy were hit by a bulldozer during the nightime eviction, and other residents were injured by clubs and stones, some seriously.

Police denied using excessive force against the group who had waged a 3-year battle against their eviction.

"We did not use violence against them, but tear gas to disperse the people who resisted," Phnom Penh police chief G. Touch Naruth told Reuters.

In her statement, Rolnik said Cambodia sould stop the practice that results in increased homeless and destitution.

"Forced evictions constitute a grave breach of human rights. They can be carried out only in exceptional circumstances and with the full respect of international standards," she said. (Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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