An independent appraisal of Koh Pich, an island across from the NagaCorp casino, shows the land to be worth $24 to $26 per square meter—more than 20 times Phnom Penh Municipality’s estimate of its worth, according to the US-backed Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project, which represents villagers on the island.
Residents of the island have been embroiled in a fight over the land since City Hall issued an eviction order Dec 6. City Hall has offered compensation to the villagers, but PILAP says it is not enough.
“We believe that the city’s latest offer of $2.50 per square meter is far below market value,” PILAP Senior Attorney Huon Chundy said on Tuesday. “We have provided the city with a copy of a land appraisal by Cambodia Properties Limited which values the land on Koh Pich at a minimum of $24 to $26 per square meter.”
He added that in 1995, a Malaysian developer had valued the land at $20 per square meter.
PILAP met with Deputy Governors Pa Socheatevong and Mann Chhouen on Tuesday to discuss the legal status of residents on the island.
“There is a clear difference of opinion about the legal status of the island,” PILAP said in a statement. “City Hall believes that it is state property.”
The 2001 Land Law, however, states that islands are state private land, “and accordingly Koh Pich residents can have valid ownerships claims,” the statement read.
PILAP maintains that City Hall cannot forcibly take the land unless the purpose is to benefit the public.
“Municipality [officials] have claimed the island will be developed for public interests, but we found that two thirds will be the investors’ interests because nice hotels and guesthouses will be constructed in the area,” said Ouk Kimkleng, attorney for PILAP.
Pa Socheatevong said Tuesday that all previous ownership claims are null and void and that the land now belongs to the municipality.
“I acknowledge that there are some mistake[s]… done previously by local authorities in releasing ownership for those villagers,” he said.
Referring to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema’s Feb 16 order for 41 families to “immediately remove themselves from Koh Pich or face legal action,” Pa Socheatevong added that City Hall will not take long to resolve this matter.
“We will take action very soon and do not allow them to live on the island. Everything must end before March,” he said.
Tonle Bassac commune chief Mea Sopheap said following a meeting with city officials about Koh Pich on Tuesday morning that “we will take strong action against [the villagers] on Feb 28,” the deadline for eviction.
But PILAP said that it believes an eviction is unlikely and that it will continue to exchange information with the city.
The city has agreed to provide PILAP with information about the investor for the island, Overseas Cambodian Development Corporation—the parent company of Canadia Bank.
The Council for the Development for Cambodia has already approved the Overseas Cambodian Development Corporation’s plans for the island, Pa Socheatevong said.