Families Rebuilding After Fire Confronted by Police, Residents, NGOs Say

Residents at Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake and human rights workers yesterday accused police and local authorities of attempting to block people in Boeng Kak II commune from rebuilding homes destroyed in a fire in March.

Rights groups said the actions on Saturday by police had violated residents’ rights and they called upon authorities to stop what they said amounted to threats against the community.

Since the homes of 257 families in villages 104 and 105 were destroyed by fire in March, many have been living in makeshift shelters at the site.

District and commune police referred questions to Tuol Kok governor Seng Ratanak, who was unavailable. Deputy Phnom Penh governor Mann Chhoeun referred questions back to Mr Ratanak.

Sia Phearum, director of the secretariat for the Housing Rights Task Force, said police had entered the area at around 8 am and to intimidate families who had been trying to rebuild on the site of their burned houses.

“People blocked the road and did not let them in,” he said.

District authorities have proposed that residents either relocate to Dangkao district or rebuild their houses on smaller plots without legal title.

So far, around 170 families have chosen to move, while 67 families wish to rebuild, but have not yet accepted the authorities’ conditions, officials said last week.

In a joint statement yesterday, human rights groups Adhoc, Licadho and the Housing Rights Task Force said the community had been warned every day not to rebuild their homes and that on Saturday officials told residents “they would be arrested” and construction supplies seized if they continued to rebuild, according to the statement.

Local resident Nouv Phalla said a scuffle broke out when security personnel arrived as villagers tried to prevent police from taking away materials they were using to rebuild their homes.

“The police grabbed the pillar of my house and then we pulled it back,” she said. Ms Phalla said she had been living in a temporary tent since.

“I am victim and I build on my own land but they did not let me build,” she said. In the shelter “the heat burns my skin and I could not sleep when it rains. I feel sick.”

 

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