As Deadline Passes, No Evictions at Waterfall

Authorities in Sihanoukville on Tuesday let pass a deadline they had set for a group of families to vacate the state land they are living on but warned them to leave voluntarily or face a forced eviction.

They say 40 shacks have recently been erected among 99 others already standing at the top of the Kbal Chhay waterfall on the city’s outskirts and that all of them are illegal.

Muoy commune chief Chhit Sophat on Tuesday said commune officials distributed, for a second time, a November 3 letter signed by Sihanoukville governor Chin Sarin ordering all families that moved to the area after June 25 to dismantle their houses by the end of Tuesday.

“We distributed the information to remind the owners of 28 of the houses to remove them by themselves,” he said. “If they do not remove them…the authorities will remove them.”

Mr. Sophat declined to say when authorities would take action.

On Monday, dozens of armed police, military police, soldiers and Forestry Administration officials set up camp near the waterfall to prevent more structures from being built.

Their arrival came after authorities razed eight houses on November 1, prompting residents to block National Road 4 in protest.

Khat Lida, 29, a villager whose home was among the eight destroyed, said the community was prepared to protest any eviction.

“If the authorities remove our houses, our people will protest in response,” Ms. Lida said. She claimed to have bought her plot in 2011 from a previous resident.

Srun Sroan, the deputy governor of Preah Sihanouk province who accompanied the mixed force to the area on Monday, said Tuesday that he hoped the residents would relocate voluntarily but stressed that authorities would use force if necessary.

He said he worried the growing community at Kbal Chhay would pose a threat to the waterfall, a major source of fresh water for the surrounding area.

“This area is the lifeblood of all of the people in Preah Sihanouk province,” he said.

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