Amnesty Starts Letters Campaign for Boeng Kak

Human rights group Amnesty International has issued an “urgent call” to supporters around the world to help prevent the scheduled eviction of Village 2 and 4 at Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake, which is scheduled for Monday.

According to the appeal, Am­nesty wants the eviction of the estimated 160 families from the two villages halted, and Phnom Penh Municipal officials to also reconsider the proposed relocation site, Damnak Trayoeng, because it has “no adequate shelter, water, electricity, sanitation, sewerage, health care or job opportunities.”

“Please write immediately in English, Khmer or your own language,” Amnesty said in its appeal, noting that the letters should be sent to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema and Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, with copies also sent to foreign diplomatic representatives in Cambodia.

“Amnesty acts and asks its members to take action when it receives credible and reliable information that serious human rights violations have occurred or that individuals and communities are at imminent risk, as in this case,” Janice Bean­land, a campaigner with Amnesty’s Southeast Asia team, wrote in an email on Friday.

“Based on average figures, we are hopeful that the appeal for families living around Boeng Kak Lake will generate upward of 5,000 messages to the Phnom Penh governor, calling on the authorities not to forcibly evict the affected people and to review the resettlement process,” Ms Beanland wrote.

Governor Chuktema declined to comment on Friday.

“I will not talk on Boeng Kak. It is the same issue,” he said.

More than 70 villagers from the threatened communities visited Phnom Penh City Hall on Friday in hopes that authorities would delay the eviction and give them more details about the development of the Boeng Kak area, villagers said.

Village 4 resident Duch Manit, 56, said protesters left a request letter at city hall on Thursday but did not receive a reply so they tried to deliver another letter Friday but were denied again.

“Four people identifying themselves as officials of city hall told us that city hall would delay the eviction, we should not worry,” Ms Manit said. “But we do not know their names or how long city hall would delay.”

Sok Sambath, Daun Penh district governor said on Friday by telephone he was unaware of an eviction postponement but if it the city orders it, he will comply.

“It is hard to say because we told them to prepare to leave and accept compensation many times,” he said. “But if city hall delays it we will follow.”

Phnom Penh City Hall signed a 99-year lease with local firm Shukaku Inc in 2007 to build private residential and commercial buildings on Boeng Kak lake, which is currently being filled in with sand pumped from the bed of the Mekong River.

Shukaku’s plan requires the eviction of thousands of residents living in the area.

According to the Aug 10 eviction order, villagers had seven days to vacate the area and were given three compensation options to choose from: Villagers have to choose between taking $8,000 and $2 million riel (around $500), taking $2 million riel and a permanent flat in Dangkao, district’s Choam Chao commune, or a permanent residence at Boeng Kak after working on Shukaku’s residential and retail development is finished.

“The [eviction] notice is very strict, it makes the villagers worry,” Villager 4 resident Nuon Phon said on Friday in front of city hall.

He said his family, along with other affected families, will not take the first two options on offer because the compensation amount is too small and the relocation site is too far from Phnom Penh.

“I want them to develop that place [village 4], but I do not want to move away from my house. A flat at Damnak Trayoeng village is very far from my workplace and my childrens’ school,” Mr Phon said. Although some of the villagers prefer the third option, of onsite relocation, they do not know where they will be living while the building work is underway, or when they will be able to move back to Boeng Kak, Mr Phon said.

“We want to meet with city hall to discuss the third option and when we will get a house at Boeng Kak,” he said.

Mr Sambath, the district’s governor, said the city has a temporary relocation site for the families who take the third option, but he would not say where it is located. As for Amnesty’s letter-writing campaign, Mr Sambath said it would be difficult to convince the municipality or the government to stop the Boeng Kak project because the soon-to-be-filled lake is now state land. Petitioning for a delay in the project would be easier, he said.

“We can delay moving them but we cannot stop the development,” he added.


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