About 150 members of the former Dey Krahorm community in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district marked the fifth anniversary on Friday of the day mechanical excavators, security guards and authorities destroyed their homes to make room for a real estate project.
Much like on past anniversaries, the community members held a 50-meter long banner with pictures of their brutal eviction in front of the 3.6-hectare plot of land that now belongs to the 7NG conglomerate.
“We never forget the day when the authorities used excavators and destroyed the houses of the residents. I call on the government to stop such violence. Please respect the rights of the people and stop forced evictions,” Chan Vichet, one of the community’s representatives, said through a loudspeaker.
In the early morning hours of January 24, 2009, residents were woken by the sound of bulldozers and excavators rolling onto their land, located just across from the Russian Embassy in Tonle Bassac commune.
Like many of the about 150 families who had refused to leave the area, 40-year-old Chao Sa Em could only grab her three children, then aged between 4- and 11-years, and handful of clothes, before her house was torn down around her.
“When I heard the sound of the machines that came to knock down my house, I grabbed my children and brought them outside. I shouted at them: ‘Don’t clear my house, stop, stop!’” Ms. Sa Em said.
Security forces hired by 7NG and hundreds of police and military police then used tear gas, a fire truck water cannon and steel bars to evict the families.
7NG offered the families they evicted alternative houses in Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao commune. However, several hundred families who had rented homes in Dey Krahorm but did not own land, were then evicted a second time by 7NG group, this time to Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district, where they set up makeshift tents in fields lacking access to water and basic sanitation.
“The conditions were so poor, there was no electricity, no water, no jobs and no school,” Ms. Sam Em said, adding that she since moved back to the city center to rent a small room and make a living as a nail designer.
Representatives of 7NG could not be reached for comment Friday.
In 2009, the company said that they intended to build luxurious residential buildings on the evicted families land, but in the intervening years they have only constructed a small football pitch that has since disappeared.
Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan said the land now belongs to 7NG.
“It’s their property. If it’s your own property you can do what you want,” he said, adding that the government considered the issue settled as 7NG had offered compensation to the families it had evicted.