Boeng Chhouk Villagers Still Waiting for Help

More than a year after a fire destroyed their homes in Ph­nom Penh’s Russei Keo district, the government has not fulfilled a promise to help residents re­cover from the massive blaze and return to their community, according to a resident representative.

Chum Phanit, representative for about 450 families displaced in the April 11, 2008, fire in Toek Thla commune’s Boeng Chhouk village—said he met in late March with Sen Sok District Governor Khuong Sreng, who he said told the villagers to va­cate the land they are currently occupying.

The residents are currently staying close to the swampy pond they lived around at the time of the fire. The land they are living on now is private property, but villagers say they cannot leave until the government provides some assistance in their efforts to return home.

“It has been a year since we moved here, and the government promised us that they will fill up the lake and build houses for us and we can pay for it month by month,” Mr Chum Pha­nit said.

He added that the villagers no longer wanted the government to rebuild their homes, demanding instead that officials build a bridge over the swampy pond to allow villagers access to rebuild their homes themselves.

Tim Saroeun, one of the villag­ers displaced by the fire, shared this sentiment.

He said he could rebuild his home himself, but needs the gov­­­­­ernment’s help gaining ac­cess to the land.

“So far, I don’t need anything from the government more than I need the bridge,” he said. “We have land, we don’t have a brid­ge, so how can we get there?”

Mr Khuong Sreng said government officials are helping villagers measure the land and identify which plots belonged to which families. He added, however, that there were no plans to build a bridge unless villagers share the cost.

“After they have an agreement on who owns which land, they can return to the village whenever they are ready,” he said.

“We can help them demarcate the land, but I have told them they have to share the cost of building the bridge. I have not heard anything,” he added.

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