More than 70 Banteay Mean-chey province families were in Phnom Penh on Thursday to ask for help from the Asian Devel-opment Bank with a railway construction project from Poipet to Serei Saophoan that they say is encroaching on their property.
Suom Chankea, Banteay Mean-chey provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that on Dec 1 more than 20 people, including several government officials as well as representatives for the ADB and local villagers, had measured off an area running along National Road 5 about 21 to 22 meters from the road’s edge for the railway link.
The measurement included a small piece of land in the backyards of villagers living about 2 km from the Poipet international checkpoint, land the villagers agreed to give up, Suom Chankea said.
But on Jan 14 and 15, more officials returned and conducted new measurements, he said, this time with plans to build the railway just 5 meters from the highway, requiring the families to leave and their houses to be removed.
The rail link between Serei Sa-phoan and the Thai border is part of a $73 million, nationwide railway restoration project being funded largely by $70 million in grants and loans from the ADB.
Villager representative Khiev Borei said Thursday that the families were asking the ADB to en-dorse their request that the government return to the boundaries of the first measurement.
“The villagers just need the donors and top government leaders to stick to the first measurement, in which only a small piece of villagers’ back yards are affected by the project for the railway renovation,” Khiev Borei said, adding that he thought an ADB endorsement of a petition to the Inter-Ministerial Resettlement Committee would mean the complaint would be taken more seriously.
Sokha Ouk, a social safeguard of-ficer for the ADB’s Cambodian Resident Mission, said she was confident the government would protect the villagers.
“We just provided a loan for the government [for this project], but regarding compensation for the af-fected families, the government has prepared its own compensation package,” she said, adding that she had received and endorsed the villagers’ complaint to be sent to the IRC.
“I strongly believe the government will not dismantle the affected houses without any agreement from the villagers,” she added.
Ministry of Public Works and Transportation Secretary of State Touch Chankosal declined to comment on the project Thursday, re-ferring questions to IRC chairman Nhean Leng, who could not be reached.
Khiev Borei said Banteay Mean-chey officials at a meeting Wednes-day promised any displaced families a 7-meter-by-15-meter plot of land at a new location, but villagers were not interested in the deal.
“We just want to get the right to continue living here,” he said.
Suom Chankea and Khiev Borei also claimed that Deputy Provincial Governor Sar Chamrong had in-timidated about 30 villagers at the Wednesday meeting into agreeing to the new measurement, forcing them to thumbprint an agreement giving up their land.
Reached by telephone Thurs-day, Sar Chamrong denied the allegation, saying the purpose of the meeting was to identify affected families.
Sar Chamrong defended the measurements, saying the government had “repeatedly” conducted studies on the railway.
He added that only 27 families will be affected by the project, and that those families are living in temporary shelters not meant to be long-term housing.
“Basically, those families just started living on the sidewalk in 2000. Those houses are just kind of temporary shelters built on the sidewalk of the railway and Nation-al Road 5,” he said, adding that villagers have not allowed officials
to meet them on their property to properly determine how many houses will be affected.