As some residents of two villages on Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake packed up their belongings yesterday ahead of today’s eviction deadline, an estimated 80 families have decided to stay in the hope that their protests will postpone any eviction until a compensation agreement has been reached.
Today, residents will meet with officials from City Hall to discuss compensation. And although most who live in Village 2 and Village 4 in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune said yesterday that they don’t believe protesting will solve their problems, they hoped at least to delay the eviction long enough for them to negotiate a better deal with Shukaku Inc, the private company that is developing the area.
“On Monday, City Hall will meet us again…. I will decide what policy I will accept after the meeting with City Hall officials,” said Pol Tourist, a representative for Village 4.
In a notice issued on Aug 10, Daun Penh district authorities gave an estimated 160 families in the two villages seven days to move out or risk being removed by force and without receiving any compensation. Since then, about half of the families have agreed to move out, rights groups and village representatives said yesterday.
Residents reported that a group of security guards from Shukaku together with district officials had walked through the area and threatened those who have yet to accept compensation. But Daun Penh District Governor Sok Sambath said yesterday that he was uncertain if authorities would resort to violence to remove the remaining families.
“If they come to accept the compensation we will not use force to make them leave,” he said. “However, Monday is the deadline,” he continued, but declined to answer further questions.
When the 99-year lease agreement between City Hall and Shukaku, which is owned by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin and his wife Chheung Sopheap, was signed in February 2007, an estimated 4,200 families lived on and around the lake. Since then, rights groups estimate, about 20 percent of residents have accepted compensation and moved out.
Residents from around Boeng Kak lake have protested against the development and the amount of compensation being offered on numerous occasions, but have shown little cohesion as a community, with at best only about 200 villagers turning up at any of the protests.
Even though a protest in which all 4,000 families participated would help influence the authorities and would make the villagers around the lake more powerful in negotiations, organizing such mass protests has been almost impossible, said Sia Phearum, secretarial director for the Housing Rights Task Force.
“They [residents] feel afraid of the threats and they don’t want to actively protest…. They just want to protect their land and get fair compensation,” he said, adding that his organization has received several reports from residents claiming to have been threatened after they participated in demonstrations.
Sitting in her home in Village 6, Soy Kolab, who also attended a protest at City Hall against the eviction notice on Friday, said that many residents hope they can negotiate a better deal if they don’t protest or that they are silently hoping they will not be affected by the development.
“I attend the protest because sooner or later we will have the same problem,” Mrs Kolab said of her lakeside village.
“Yes, it is useless to protest if we can’t help villagers from Village 2 and 4. They will do the same to other villages,” she continued.
But most residents, she added, are scared that they will be forced to move without compensation or that they will be punished in other ways for attending demonstrations.
Village 22 resident Sieng Sam Ath, 38, said she was scared that the authorities would attempt to burn down her house and force her to accept less compensation or give her nothing at all. She used to attend protests but has stopped doing so.
“We have to be careful; I used to protest in front of the company offices,” Mrs Sam Ath said, but added that company security had taken her name and photographed her, prompting her to stop picketing.