Driven by development

Tonle Bassac commune’s Vil­lage 14 is almost no more. Since the May 3 re­lo­cation began, the lives of thousands who had been living in the village’s ramshackle quarters in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Bassac commune have chang­ed drama­ti­cally—many say for the worse.

Rights workers and the Tonle Bassac residents acknowledged that the Sour Srun Company had title to the land on which Vil­lage 14 once stood, where the com­pany may build a shopping mall.

But for the poor, the issue now is wheth­er they can survive on the land given as an alternative by the company.

They say that the remote flood-­prone location on the outskirts of Phnom Penh does not bode well for their new life. They lack building materials and access to jobs.

Hundreds of families classified as rent­ers remain at Village 14, living under nothing more than tarpaulin at the village’s former entrance. Their children search the rubbish heaped all around—the debris of their former homes.

Some renters interviewed this week said they have been prom­ised small plots of land in Dang-­kao district, where the 1,261 families of Village 14 classified as owners were relocated. “The company came on May 16, I didn’t get photographed by the company yet so I wait here,” Neth Roeun, 48, said in her tent on Tuesday at the site of Village 14. “I survive on donated rice from an art NGO,” she said.

Ken Sothy, the former owner of a pool hall near the office of the chief of Village 14, initially resisted the dismantling on May 3. By May 6, after riot police broke a villager blockade of relocationtrucks, she had given in.

This week she sat beneath her pool table at her muddy land in Dangkao, her handwritten list of demands for a larger plot of land, located closer to the center of Phnom Penh, tossed in the dirt.

“My house is already flooded, but where can I live?” asked Pok Sova, 30, sitting in her new palm-leaf home on Tuesday.

“There is nothing here to be liked,” said Chhorn Chanthan, 38. “I didn’t find work here yet be­cause I am a motorbike taxi driver…it is far from the main road.”

One person happy with the new location was a municipal po­lice officer who assisted in the re­lo­cation. He has a sturdy house on stilts that will weather the rainy season well. He said he had been given three plots of land at the new site because his property at Village 14 had been bigger than those of other residents.

“The villagers are happy here,” said the police officer, declining to give his name.


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