City Has Big Plans for Island Near Naga Casino

Development plans for Koh Pich—the island across from the NagaCorp casino where residents are contesting an eviction order by City Hall—would turn the island into a miniature city dotted with high rises, according to blueprints drawn up by a company hired by the Phnom Penh Muni­cipality.

Drawings by 7 N G construction show plans for at least 11 high rises, a tall structure reminiscent of the Space Needle in Seattle, Wash­ington, USA, and a large park.

The blueprints, given to the Hou­sing Rights Task Force, which is helping villagers contest their eviction, also shows plans for the construction of three bridges and possibly an underground train that would connect the island to the land on which the NagaCorp casino is housed.

But the plans do not reveal who would finance the development.

Though 7 N G has been hired by the city to compensate and transfer the 134 villagers now living on Koh Pich, the municipality has not named the private company driving the development plans.

Attempts to reach representatives of 7 N G were unsuccessful Sunday because the company’s number is not listed.

On Dec 6, the Municipality issued an order, giving villagers 30 days to vacate their homes on the island, which has sweeping views of the Mekong river on its northeast side.

Despite protests from the villagers, the city issued a decree on Dec 29, saying it will go ahead with its eviction order.

But on Sunday Brian Rohan, a member of the Housing Rights Task Force, said residents may get a 30-day extension from a Jan 6 deadline set by the Munici­pality to evict them.

The task force, comprised of the UN High Commission on Human Rights and the US-backed Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project, made an agreement Saturday with a representative from 7 N G.

“7 N G agrees to halt any further relocations of residents for at least 30 days,” Rohan said. “We will work together to clarify all legal issues concerning the status of land on the island, in­cluding merits of ownership claims on a family by family basis.”

The Housing Rights Task Force plans to meet with Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema on Tuesday in hopes of getting his approval on the extension. Re­peated calls to Kep Chuktema for comment were unsuccessful Sunday.

Thus far, City Hall has been firm in its contention that the is­land is state public property, a claim the task force calls erroneous.

Under the 2001 Land Law, islands do not fall under state public property, Rohan said. And, he said, as long as the villagers have lived on Koh Pich at least five years before the enactment of the law, they are entitled to the land.

Further complicating matters is the assessed value of the land on Koh Pich. Residents who have al­ready agreed to accept compensation have been paid about $1 to $2 per square meter, a price well below the land’s worth, Rohan said.

According to an assessment of the property value, he said: “We believe the value of the land may be substantially higher than that currently being offered to island residents.”

He declined to give specific num­bers.

(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)


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