Lakeside residents living near Boeung Kak in Phnom Penh are worried that the municipality’s recent efforts to measure their land and its plans to develop the area will inevitably lead to their eviction.
“I hear the government will develop this area,” villager Kim Socheat, 40, said Sunday. “I feel scared I will be forced to relocate.”
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said the city has wanted to develop the area around the lake for almost 10 years.
“The municipality needs to develop that area,” he said. “The development at that place needs all the agreement from government, municipality…and local residents as well.”
But Mann Chhoeun said any development of the area “must be peaceful.”
“We will use a voluntary policy,” he said. “If the development is cruel, we will not develop it.”
Officials from Srah Chak commune and the land management department in Daun Penh district, where Boeung Kak is located, began a 45-day project on April 19 to measure residents’ land and survey the families, said commune Chief Chhay Thirith.
“There are five officials in each working group. This is an urgent work that needs to be implemented soon,” he said.
Chhay Thirith said that the working groups were formed following an order from Mann Chhoeun and Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema.
But in a statement dated April 24, villagers said some of them were forced to pay $10 or $20, although they didn’t know what the money was for. They were also forced to thumbprint documents and have their photos taken.
“Some working groups ordered the families to pay—some $10 and some $20. Another working group also forced each family to have their pictures taken by carrying placards after they measured the land,” the letter said.
Chhay Thirith denies officials extorted money from villagers, adding that the project aims to improve security in the area.
Village Chief Men Sokha, 47, however, denied claims that the area is unsafe.
“If the officials claim this area is not safe, they should set up a police station here,” he said.