Residents facing eviction around Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake were instructed yesterday to settle with the CPP-linked firm developing the area by Wednesday or face the consequences on their own.
Though not the first such notice lake residents have received, it appeared to be the first addressed to nearly every one of the thousands of residents still living there.
“This is the first time that all the villagers received the same letter at the same time,” said Sia Phearum, secretary-general of the Housing Rights Task Force.
Dated Wednesday and bearing Daun Penh district governor Sok Sambath’s signature, the letter was addressed to all but one of the seven villages around the lake.
It leaves out only Village 1, where most residents have been forced out by the developer’s deliberate flooding of their homes with sand.
“Please immediately make contact to accept the [compensation] policy at the Boeng Kak Development Committee Office…within seven days from when the notice was issued,” the letter said.
“In case Sir and Madam do not follow the above notice, Daun Penh district will take strict legal action and will not be responsible for any damage to or loss of your property.”
Before hanging up on a reporter yesterday, Mr Sambath said residents would be given an extra two or three days if they were making an honest effort to move out.
“We give them seven days,” he said. “But it depends on their obvious ability. If they are moving their house but haven’t finished moving, we will give them two or three more days.”
The city has been issuing individual villages and groups of families eviction notices since Shukaku Inc started filling in the lake with sand in 2008 for a massive development project.
City Hall granted CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin’s firm a 99-year lease on the area in a 2007 deal that housing rights groups have called illegal for denying the 4,000-plus families who live there a chance to claim title to their land.
Last year, Shukaku partnered with a Chinese firm on the project to form Shukaku Erdos Hongjun Property Development.
Though the city has rejected residents’ claims of land ownership, it has offered them a trio of compensation options: $500 and a small apartment in Dangkao district, $8,500 cash, or on-site housing once the project is finished. But residents say the free apartments are too far from their city jobs and the cash payouts will not cover the costs of buying another home.
Last week, City Hall also rejected the residents’ proposal that Shukaku let them keep 15 hectares of the site to rebuild on their own.
“I think they will destroy our houses the same as Dey Krahorm because the letter states they will not take responsibility for any damage to our property,” said Huot Mutdy, who received the district’s letter yesterday.
Hundreds of police forcibly evicted about 100 families from Phnom Penh’s Dey Krahorm community with batons and tear gas in a January 2009 clash that left two residents hospitalized and six police officers injured.
Undeterred, Ms Mutdy said the residents of Boeng Kak would hold their ground.
“We are afraid, but we still stand by our demand for 15 hectares of land to develop ourselves,” she said.
Whether they have seven days or seven weeks, Village 23 resident Non Sokheng said it made no difference.
“They set the deadline to scare the people into accepting the compensation quickly,” she said. “But whether they give us two or three months, we still will not accept. We will hold our position.”
Ly Mom, a representative of the residents, said they would go to the firm’s lakeside office this morning, but not to accept the compensation on offer. She said they wanted to find out if the firm would raise its offer.
Company representatives could not be reached.
Mr Phearum, of the Housing Rights Task Force, said it was hard to say whether authorities meant to take action as soon as next week’s deadline expires. While some residents have received three notices already, he said, “sometimes [there is] no eviction note, but they evict.”
With many hundreds of families still calling the area home, Mr Phearum said authorities might hold off on a mass eviction push. On the other hand, he said authorities may be taking advantage of the fact that roughly half the community has already moved out.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)