Three families protesting the fencing-off of the Phnom Penh building in which they have lived for decades were assured Monday by City Hall—which “swapped” the property and the land on which it is built earlier this month—that they will not be evicted from the building until they negotiate compensation with the company who now owns the land.
In a letter dated April 25 and signed by Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema, City Hall complied with a request by the Khun Sear Import Export Company to fence off the land around the building in Tuol Kok district’s Boeng Kak 1 commune. But the letter also requested that a gate be made in the fence for the three families who are still negotiating compensation for their eviction with the company, and who continue to live on the site.
“City Hall did not evict the families,” deputy Tuol Kok district governor Saing Sopheak Vichet said Monday by telephone. “The company is negotiating to pay them compensation.”
Yet the 20 members in the three families, who said they were unaware of the letter, stopped the company’s security guards on Monday from erecting a fence, believing they were being shut out of the building.
The confrontation was not violent, however, it was watched by about 50 military police that were deployed to the land dispute but did not intervene on Monday.
The building has been the shared home of the local commune council office, the local CPP office and a total of seven families. While the commune and CPP offices moved into the building in the 1980s, the seven families were living on the site years before that.
Commune chief Rith Darith claimed Monday that the entire property belongs to City Hall, and that because it is old and small, and because government policy now requires that commune offices and political party offices be on separate premises, the municipal government decided to sell the building to a private company.
He added that 4 of the 7 families had accepted compensation and had moved out Monday and Sunday, but the three remaining families want more money to leave their homes.
One of the protesters, 22-year-old Ly Siv Ming, said that her family has lived in the building since late 1979, the year the Khmer Rouge was ousted from power, while the commune office had only moved in the 1980s.
“The company tried to pay us $15,000 to move, then increased it to $20,000, but we could not accept it because it is not enough to buy a house now [in Phnom Penh],” she said.
Ms. Siv Ming said that at 4 p.m. on Monday, the district governor invited the three families to his office to explain City Hall’s letter and told them they were free to stay at the building until payment had been negotiated.