Hang Chantha watched in horror last weekend as a private company battling to take her land dug a four-meter-deep trench around the perimeter of her home.
“After the company dug, I could not sleep at night; I was afraid my house would fall,” she recounted Thursday, sitting beneath her elevated home with her grandchildren playing nearby. “I have many children up there.”
The Heng Development Company has muscled its way into Phnom Penh’s Prek Kampoes commune in the past few years, scooping up at least 300 hectares of land behind Ms. Chantha’s home.
Ms. Chantha, 53, and two of her neighbors have refused to sell their homes, located just off National Road 2 and leading into Heng Development’s large swath of land.
“I cannot sell and build another house with the $3,000 they offered,” said Ms. Chantha, who lives with her six children and five grandchildren. “When I denied the offer, the company tried to collapse my home.”
On Tuesday, officials from Dangkao district and Prek Kampoes commune arrived on the scene with bulldozers to push mounds of dirt back into the trench before Ms. Chantha’s home collapsed into its empty surrounds.
But Sieng Chanheng, the owner of Heng Development, defended the digging of the trench, saying it was done not to topple Ms. Chantha’s home but to mark land boundaries.
“We dug into the land to protect the company’s border from houses being built on the company land,” said Ms. Chanheng, adding that local authorities had refilled the trench without her permission.
“Those families made their house on top of the company’s land. They are grabbing the company’s land.”
Duch Vutha, second deputy chief of Prek Kampoes commune, said Thursday that the company was not negotiating in good faith.
Mr. Vutha confirmed the commune had hired the Raveng Development Company to push the dirt back into the trench for $150.
“The company is accusing villages of being on their land, but that is not right,” he said. “The families were here before the company.”
Ms. Chantha, who says that she always carries her land ownership title in her handbag, explained Thursday that she has been sleeping beneath her home since the trench was dug.
Looking at cracks that have appeared in the land under her home, she said she’s too afraid to sleep in her elevated home, which she recently raised to escape floods.
“My land has started to break; it’s very dangerous,” she said. “We are a poor family and the company thinks it can do whatever it wants.”
Ms. Chantha’s neighbors said the company has hauled dirt onto the land it owns behind their homes to channel water into their homes and force them to sell.
“My house gets flooded during every rainy season because our land is lower than the company’s land now,” said Phal Sokhneou, 38, who lives beside Ms. Chantha.
A meeting is to take place today between commune officials, the families and Heng Development.