With the dust barely settled from Saturday’s forced eviction of what was left of Phnom Penh’s Dey Krahorm community, private company 7NG is considering asking City Hall to relocate the 600 families living in the adjacent Bassac apartment building, according to a company adviser.
“The company will discuss with City Hall about those people, too, about the possibility of relocation,” Srey Sothea said by telephone on Tuesday.
The 300-meter-long, run-down Tonle Bassac commune apartment complex on Sothearos Blvd, simply known as the “building” by locals, stands next to the Dey Krahorm site. On Saturday, the remaining 90 to 150 Dey Krahorm holdout families were forced from their homes by police and military police using tear gas, batons and water cannons.
Now that Dey Krahorm is empty of the 1,465 families that used to live there, Srey Sothea said 7NG can focus on building a grocery store, modern offices and business center on the 3.6-hectare property.
Pending the approval of City Hall, 7NG’s new development project will “attempt to compete with the Korean-backed 52-story buildings,” Srey Sothea said, referencing GS Engineering & Construction’s plan for a 52-story financial center further along on Sothearos Boulevard.
Srey Sothea said his firm’s ultimate plan for the area could affect those living in the adjacent Bassac apartment building, and may require further relocations of families, which will be discussed in a future meeting between 7NG and City Hall, though he added that the company would not rush into this next phase of their land development project.
“I experienced enough of the Dey Krahorm villagers’ situation. I am afraid to do such a relocation again,” he said.
Municipal Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun on Tuesday directed questions about the future of the Bassac apartments to the director of the municipal department of land management and construction, Chhay Rithsen, who could not be reached for comment.
Built in 1963, the once pristine Bassac apartments were designed by Lu Ban Hap and Vladimir Bodiansky to be a low-cost housing project, according to Helen Grant Ross and Darryl Collins in their seminal book “Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970.”
In its post-war incarnation, the “building” has “weathered badly and been transformed by squatters,” Ross and Collins wrote in 2006.
“Today’s impoverished occupants have no means and the general state of the buildings is so bad that it seems inconceivable that they could one day be renovated,” they wrote.
At some point after 1979 the apartments became a colony for artists employed by the Culture Ministry, Tonle Bassac commune chief Khat Narith said Tuesday by telephone, although Culture Minister Him Chhem said he did not know the building’s current status as an artist community.
What is clear, Khat Narith said, is that the 600 families living in the complex have legal rights to their homes and cannot be forcibly evicted.
“The government doesn’t have any plan to evict them. But in case any private company wants to buy the building, and the people agree to sell, they can do it,” Khat Narith said.
Chamkar Mon District Governor Lo Yuy could not be reached for comment.
Meas Kim Seng, head of the housing rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut said the families living in the Bassac apartments cannot be evicted without approval from community representatives, as happened when 36 Dey Krahorm representatives signed over the entire community’s land to 7NG.
“According to the Land Law, the people are the owners,” Meas Kim Seng said by telephone Tuesday.
Residents of the Bassac apartments are already fighting with 7NG to gain a six-meter buffer zone between their apartment complex and what will soon be the Dey Krahorm construction site.
On Saturday, police and municipal police attempted to erect a 2.5-meter-tall fence directly against the walls of the building facing Dey Krahorm, which would have cut off access to a number of apartments and a school operated by the NGO Village Earth, said school Project Director Drew McDowell.
However, residents and school workers pushed back against the fence as 7NG workers pushed it forward, said McDowell, and eventually a representative of 7NG agreed to temporarily place the fence one meter back from the apartments.
More than 200 Bassac residents are now drafting a letter to send to City Hall and 7NG requesting a permanent buffer space of about 6 meters, McDowell said by telephone Tuesday, which would allow fire trucks to access the back of the building and for the school to stay open.
The school provided free English and computer lessons to about 110 people in the community before Saturday’s evictions.
(Reporting by Rann Reuy, Phorn Bopha and Stephen Kurczy)