At least 80 villagers from the island opposite the NagaCorp Casino protested outside the Phnom Penh Municipality on Monday against an order requiring them to vacate their homes by early January.
“City Hall has abused our rights by threatening to destroy our plantation,” said Au Thol, who has lived on Koh Pich for 10 years.
“We do not want to change or sell our land,” she said. “We want to stay on the island.”
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatevong met with eight representatives from Koh Pich and promised not to relocate the villagers until they have reached a deal for compensation.
Pa Socheatevong claimed the municipality issued the Dec 6 eviction order against the island’s residents in order to prevent newcomers from making false claims for compensation.
“We want to stop the newcomers from taking [land],” he said. “That’s why we issued the statement. “I want the villagers to calm down and to discuss with the city appropriate compensation.”
The municipality is working with Canadia Bank, one of the private companies interested in purchasing the island real estate, to pay the villagers’ compensation, but the company has yet to deliver master plans, Pa Socheatevong said.
Canadia Bank Vice President Phoung Khinh Hoa said his company plans to buy the island but must wait for a technical inspection.
“Many technical problems need to be resolved,” he said.
“You can imagine, if you do something during the rainy season, everything is flooded. So you have to elevate the land level…. It’s not a simple investment.”
Explaining the mass eviction, Pa Socheatevong said the island is state property and that the government wants to develop the area.
Under Article 44 of the 1993 Constitution, the government has “the right to confiscate possessions from any person…only in the public interest as provided for under law and shall require fair and just compensation in advance.”
Some 30 villagers have already sold or exchanged their land for property in Takhmau district, Kandal province, said one villager, who identified himself as Run but declined to give his full name, fearing for his security.
He said that he sold his land, which measured 10 meters wide and 400 meters long in July for $9,000. “The city claimed they want to develop the island, so I decided to sell the land,” Run said.
(Additional reporting by Yvonne Lee)