Alarmed by last Saturday’s forced eviction of what remained of Phnom Penh’s 3.6-hectare Dey Krahorm community, residents living around Boeng Kak lake and in Tonle Bassac commune’s Group 78 village say they are taking measures to ensure the same doesn’t happen to them.
Similar to Dey Krahorm, both Tonle Bassac commune and Boeng Kak lake are slated for so-called development. And like Dey Krahorm, the residents of both areas have been offered either exit money or a relocation home. And as with Dey Krahorm, the residents of both areas slated for eviction are not satisfied with the proposed compensation.
“Now, people are more afraid of a violent eviction as they saw it with their own eyes [in Dey Krahorm],” Lim Sam Bo, a Group 78 representative, said Wednesday.
Group 78 sits between the new National Assembly and the bulldozed Dey Krahorm community. Its residents have battled eviction for more than three years.
Of the original 150 families living in Group 78, 88 families remain while the rest have accepted the Sour Srun Company’s compensation of $5,000 and a 60-square-meter piece of land in Dangkao district.
Lim Sam Bo said he met this week with a lawyer representing Group 78, and that the two discussed whether police might one day sweep down on them and destroy their homes, too.
“Sooner or later, they will do the same to us,” Lim Sam Bo said. “I will not fight back,” he added, “because against 100 villagers the authorities use thousands of military troops. How can we face them?”
Group 78 resident Tin Kea Kuoy Chi, 43, said she and her family moved to the area in the 1980s, though they still lack the paperwork to prove it.
“I am worried every day. Now, I never wear my good clothes because I packed them away when I saw [what happened at] Dey Krahorm,” she said.
Contact information for the Sour Srun Company could not be found, and the Group 78 residents and their attorneys were unaware of how to contact the firm.
Municipal Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong declined to comment as to whether Group 78 residents would receive forewarning of their eviction.
“It is not necessary to tell right now,” he said before declining further comment.
Across town at Boeng Kak, residents are hoping to avoid the violence of another Dey Krahorm by scheduling a meeting with City Hall to negotiate a standard compensation price of $10,000 for smaller homes and up to $50,000 for bigger homes, community representative Chour Lee said.
Boeng Kak lake was signed over by City Hall to Shukaku Inc in February 2007. Planning to build a $79 million shopping and business plaza, the company is currently pumping sand into the lake to fill it in.
Shukaku—whose shareholders are Chheung Sopheap, owner of the Pheapimex conglomerate, and her husband, CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin—is offering affected families either $8,500 in cash or $500 and a Dangkao district home.
Of the approximately 4,000 families thought to live on or around the lake, Chour Lee said about 300 have accepted a new home 20 km away at the relocation site in Dangkao district, while about 150 have taken the cash.
Shukaku representatives were canvassing neighborhoods three weeks ago, Chour Lee said, seeking more families willing to take their offer to move out.
Shukaku representatives could not be reached for comment and Lao Meng Khin turned off his phone Thursday when a reporter contacted him.
The Office of the Boeng Kak Development Committee, where residents go when they’re ready to take an exit offer, was quiet Wednesday. An employee who declined to provide his name said residents come regularly to take one of Shukaku’s exit plans.
When asked how many had taken the deal, he answered, “I think you have to ask Phnom Penh Municipality.”
Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema and his deputies Mann Chhoeun and Pa Socheatvong could not be reached for comment on the lake on Wednesday or Thursday.
Daun Penh District Governor Sok Sambath claimed that 50 percent of Boeng Kak residents had accepted compensation offers, before declining further comment.
Of the more than a dozen Boeng Kak residents interviewed Wednesday, nearly all knew of the Dey Krahorm eviction, and nearly all expressed concern.
“I am worrying about that,” said Chheng Neng, 30, who lives on the lake with his wife and two children, aged 5 and 2, in Village 6.
Chheng Neng said he wants $50,000 to leave his home, far more than the $8,500 that Shukaku representatives offer, yet he said he also knows every day he declines their offer he comes closer to the end, whatever that end may be.
“It’s always on my mind,” he said. “The water is rising every day. The sand is coming in, and we can’t get the water out.”
The water’s edge is 1 meter higher than a year ago because of Shukaku’s pumping of sludge into the lake, said Chour Lee, and residents don’t know if the more present danger is the rising waters or the threat of forced evictions.
Behind the railway station where the lake filling is taking place, a long steel pipe now stretches over a desert of sand.
A manmade beach now stretches into the lake and is creeping up on the home of Van Thorn, 67, a Village 22 resident whose backdoor opens to the middle of the lake. She estimated the water level to be 0.5 meters higher than normal and doubts her home will last through the rainy season.
“I will take the relocation house,” she said. “It’s not fair.”
Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group Licadho, said a worry now is that the violent eviction of the Dey Krahorm community could cause other communities to lose hope in their battles against eviction.
“There seems to be no respect for the law or even documents that villagers have to prove that they are landowners,” Pilorge said by telephone Thursday.
There is nothing the Dey Krahorm community could have done to avoid the events of last Saturday, but other communities can avoid the same fate by staying organized, sharing feedback among themselves and constantly monitoring their areas, she said.
“Dey Krahorm resisted for four years. If they had done nothing, it would have happened four years ago.”
Theh Pongsa, 32, who lives with his wife and three children in a stilted home on the lake in Village 6, said residents of Boeng Kak remain optimistic that their situation is different from Dey Krahorm.
About 25 times as many people live at Boeng Kak compared to Dey Krahorm, which Theh Pongsa said would complicate any sudden mass eviction, though he admitted that last Saturday’s events sent a ripple of fear through the lakeside community.
“If they did it with Dey Krahorm,” he said, “they can do it with us.”
(Additional reporting by Rann Reuy)