In a new development in the filling of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake, private developer Shukaku Inc last week began pumping sand into one of the communities along the lake’s shores, according to locals.
By yesterday morning, packed mud lay inches deep around the modest wooden homes and shops of village one along the lake’s western bank. A stone’s throw away, the firm’s pipes were still at work, spewing jets of muddy water down a low rise and into their streets.
Prime Minister Hun Sen “talks about reducing poverty but how can this reduce poverty?” said Horng Seng, a village resident. He “is treating the poor people badly and will let the rich people live here.”
City Hall in 2007 officially granted Shukaku a 99-year lease to the lake and the surrounding villages, at the time home to an estimated 20,000 people. But housing rights groups called the move illegal for ignoring residents’ land rights. Locals have been fighting their pending evictions ever since.
Since CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin’s development firm started filling Boeng Kak lake with sand two years ago, families and shop owners around the lake have watched their homes flood after each heavy rain. But the water, at least, would slowly drain away. The mud the firm has been pumping into village one, however, has left behind layer upon layer of sand.
Residents say the firm is using the sand to mark its territory.
On Friday, villagers built a makeshift fence around the home of Khun Serey, which has borne the brunt of the recent pumping, as a marker of their own. But Ms Serey said yesterday that three police officers soon arrived to pull the fence out. She said a man who identified himself as a relative of company officials insisted that whatever the sand touched belonged to Shukaku.
“He said wherever the sand goes, that is the company’s land,” Ms Serey said standing outside her home, her feet awash in a stream of mud.
Making little headway with the government, the villagers turned to the spirit world yesterday, offering a roast pig and praying for the salvation of their village and the downfall of the firm.
The pair of knives standing out of the prostrate pig’s back was symbolically intended for the company, said Ly Mom, a spokeswoman for the residents.
“We have no choice but to do this prayer,” she said.
A Shukaku employee accompanied by an armed police officer at the site of the pumping yesterday said the firm would not comment on the project and referred all questions to the city.
Deputy city governors Pa Socheatvong and Touch Sarom could not be reached. Cabinet chief Ly Saveth and Srah Chak commune chief Chhay Thirith declined to comment.