A decade ago, powerful businesswoman Suy Sophan promised to build 10 apartment blocks for residents of Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila neighborhood who faced eviction to make way for her real estate project. She only built eight, leaving hundreds of residents without a home.
A new apartment block has now been built on the land once slated for resettlement housing, but it’s not for former residents. “Apartment/Room for Rent 250$ (Special Promotion)” says a sign on the front of the building.
Pork Sophin, a Borei Keila resident who was denied a place in the first eight blocks, was one of about 10 people who turned out on Tuesday to protest the new rentals.
“Our purpose today is to call upon the company to stop renting apartments and immediately find a solution for families who were left out,” she said. “If the company claimed they were bankrupt, why have they announced that the apartments in building nine can be rented?”
In 2007, Ms. Sophan’s company, Phanimex, was granted a 2.6-hectare plot in Borei Keila with the understanding it would build 10 adjacent apartment blocks for the area’s 1,776 families. After only eight of the promised blocks were erected, Ms. Sophan claimed she had ran out of money for the rest.
In January, the majority of the remaining residents accepted either an apartment in one of the eight apartment blocks, a cash payout or plots of land outside of the city, and construction of a ninth block next to the others pressed ahead.
Ms. Sophan said on Tuesday that she had sold the land to another company—both the plot the ninth block now sits on and the area beside it, which had been slated for a 10th but now hosts a car sales lot.
“I sold it,” Ms. Sophan said, claiming that the new owner was a businessman named Seang Vung Leang.
“In Borei Keila we have already resolved it all and those who came to protest are newcomers who did not have a house in Borei Keila. Some already sold their house and came to protest,” Ms. Sophan said before hanging up.
Mr. Vung Leang could not be reached.
A man who picked up a call to a telephone number listed on the new building declined to be named and said his company was simply in charge of renting out the apartments but did not own the land.
“We rented it from another company for building an apartment to rent to students and others at a suitable price,” he said.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said the Borei Keila dispute had been put to bed and should be left that way.
“Don’t dig up the case, because the dispute was settled and we have to move forward,” he said.
However, Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force, which has long advocated for the Borei Keila residents, said the government and Phanimex had clearly violated the original deal.
“The government and the company violated the agreement between the company and the residents of Borei Keila because in the agreement they agreed to build 10 buildings and they built only eight buildings and then they reported to the government that they had a crisis of funding,” Mr. Phearum said.
The remaining residents should be offered an apartment in the ninth blocks, he said.
(Additional reporting by George Wright)