More than 40 armed police and city officials escorted 20 workers carrying axes and hammers to Koh Pich—the island across from NagaCorp Casino—to enforce a court order to evict the three families still living on the island on Thursday morning.
Armed with AK-47 assault rifles and shotguns, Chamkar Mon district police and military police, along with Phnom Penh municipal officials and court clerks, stood on the island during the eviction.
Soldiers ordered away lawyers for the residents and attempted to capsize boats carrying NGO staff, reporters and Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Keo Remy.
“This island belongs to our state, therefore you have to move. Otherwise, we can use force to evict you…. We have an injunction,” Sar Heng Vansak, Tonle Bassac commune chief, told the residents.
“You can demand any price you want, if you hold a land title legally. Particularly, we also have Samdech Hun Sen’s directive to develop this island,” he said.
Koh Pich resident Sov Hak, who had resisted resettlement, said that he was intimidated into leaving by the heavily armed police.
“I will struggle through the judicial system, because the injunction was made illegally. I asked them to move only household materials, and keep my home on the island, until we can define who is the real land owner,” Sov Hak said, adding that he would take his case to the Supreme Court if necessary.
He said he would continue to demand $25 per square meter, but the municipality has offered him only $10 per square meter.
As an alternative, he said, he would be willing to rent his land directly to Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation, which is set to develop the island, at the same price the municipality is offering the company—$63 per square meter.
But until the matter is resolved, he said, he hopes the commune authorities will protect his house.“I am afraid those officials might clear my home someday,” he added.
Eang Sopheak, an attorney at the Community Legal Education Center’s Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project, said the injunction was illegal and the method of implementation was excessive. He called Koh Pich a bitter battlefield.
“It seems to me they took those officials to fight in a war,” he said. “I also worry about my clients’ homes, who will be responsible for loss or damage of their homes. Particularly, [OCIC] has no right to remove homes.”
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