A ripple of cheers went up Tuesday morning among the roughly 400 people who had gathered to watch as a mechanical excavator smashed into a block of flats built on Kob Srov lake.
“I wanted to see if the government would keep its promise to destroy this development. That’s why I’m here,” said Leang Meng, 51, who has lived in nearby Praek Pnov village since 1979.
“You must come down now and watch because I think they’re going to knock those nice villas next,” another man nearby said excitedly into his mobile phone.
Locals said police and workmen had arrived at the Long Chhin Resorts development on Kob Srov lake at around 7 am to begin the removal of the partially built residential development.
At around 10 am, 20 armed police were gathered at the elaborately decorated entrance to the building site as more excavators rolled in to join in the destruction of the blocks of flats and 18 villas built on a filled-in section of the lake.
“Maybe some businessmen are not happy with this as they lose money, but the villagers are very happy as this lake is important for them. I support this a lot,” Leang Meng said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday that the demolition ordered at Kob Srov was just the beginning of a crackdown on the illegal filling of lakes nationwide. Land management officials across the country who had given permission to develop on lake land must invalidate it, Hun Sen said during a graduation ceremony at Chaktomuk theater.
Any land illegally created by filling lakes will be confiscated without compensation by the government, he added. “Not only the two-story houses but the ten-floor hotels will also be destroyed.”
District governors in Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu and Mok Kampoul districts were also to be removed, Hun Sen went on, adding that Kandal’s recent ex-governor, Khim Bo, and two other officials sacked over the weekend might face a court case over their handling of the Long Chhin Resorts issue.
Hun Sen said he ordered the demolition at Kob Srov because Long Chhin Resorts had abused public land.
“Long Chhin curses me but the people are with us. [Long Chhin] are not investors. They are thieves,” Hun Sen continued.
Mok Kampoul Governor Ou Chev said he had been informed of his removal. “I don’t love power. I have worked for the government for 26 years,” he said, “The CPP is different. When the boss says you are fired, it means you are fired.”
Ponhea Leu Governor Tep Sothy also confirmed that he had learned he was to lose his job, though he said he did not know why.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy called Tuesday for more consistency on the issue of the illegal filling in of lakes.
“I hope this is not just a big-time gesture from Hun Sen to impress people,” Sam Rainsy said.
“If Long Chhin Resorts are thieves, then we must ask who has been inviting all these thieves into Cambodia. The government has been dealing with them all these years,” he added.
Reporters were not allowed to access the demolition area on Tuesday morning at Kob Srov.
Several trees, however, which appeared to have been planted in the last two weeks since the lake filling controversy became public, could be seen on the 60-meter wide strip of man-made land stretching approximately a kilometer into the lake.
Tep Sothy said the demolition work would continue throughout the evening.
Kandal Province’s new Governor Chhun Sirun said that a lawyer for Long Chhin Resorts had come to the area on Tuesday but had left without speaking to anyone. Representatives of Long Chhin Resorts could not be contacted for comment.
Further along the Kob Srov dike, the crucial guard against flooding of Phnom Penh that experts warned would be compromised if the lake were filled, the owner of a house built on the embankment said he was frightened by developments.
“I’m always afraid to say what I think on this sort of thing as sometimes [in Cambodia] right becomes wrong and wrong changes to right in a short time,” the house owner said on condition of anonymity.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)