The Council of Ministers has issued a letter authorizing the Phnom Penh Municipality to use force to remove 27 families living on Koh Pich, the disputed island opposite the NagaCorp Casino, a senior municipal official said Monday.
Deputy Municipal Governor Pa Socheatavong said the letter was issued shortly before the Water Festival, which began on Nov 15.
“It is a letter authorizing the right to use force to solve the issue,” Pa Socheatavong said, adding the letter was issued shortly before the Water Festival, which began Nov 15.
He said the letter opens the way to the forced removal of the last remaining residents of the island.
“If [the residents] don’t agree, the forces will be used because it is the property of the state—not private [property],” he said.
Kann Man, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, said he was unaware of the letter.
Following a lengthy legal tussle, Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered the eviction of the 27 families still living on Koh Pich on Nov 3.
Chum Sam Oeun, a resident on the island, said he was shown the letter shortly before the Water Festival during a meeting at the municipality.
During the meeting, Pa Socheatavong “said the letter was the decision of the Council of Ministers,” Chum Sam Oeun said.
“We are afraid but have nowhere to go so we just live here,” he said of the threat to use force.
Eang Sopheak, a lawyer with the Public Interest Legal Aid Project, which represents 20 of the 27 families, said he had learned about the letter from the residents.
He also questioned why the Council of Ministers had issued a letter authorizing force when a court eviction order already exists.