Helmeted state security guards on Thursday blocked landowners from entering their plots in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district as heavy machinery razed crude structures and leveled the earth to make way for a hotly disputed road construction project.
Members of about 10 of the roughly 200 families affected by the development arrived in the morning to defend the land—which sits on a 100-meter-wide strip between National Road 6A and the site of a planned satellite city, for which hundreds of families have already been displaced—and demand fair compensation for their loss.
But they could do little more than watch the bulldozers at work.
The municipal government has defended the road project as a necessary infrastructure upgrade that will benefit locals, but residents are skeptical, saying it will mainly serve the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC), which has close ties to the government and is developing the 387-hectare satellite city.
“I don’t intend to prevent the authorities from building roads or sewage systems,” said Hul Saroeun, 45, as the bulldozers rumbled across the plot of land she claims as her own. “I simply want proper compensation.”
The government has offered residents $15 per square meter for their land—well below the hundreds of dollars it could fetch on the free market.
“I was only informed two days ago, and then they brought the machinery to clear the land,” Ms. Saroeun said. “They brought a lot of security to pressure the landowners. I don’t believe this project is for the public’s benefit. It is an excuse to take the land for OCIC.”
Deputy Chroy Changva governor Huy Sarun was on hand on Thursday to direct the dozens of district security guards, who formed a human blockade between the aggrieved landowners and their land, and to reiterate City Hall’s position that the road, which runs adjacent to the newly upgraded National Road 6A, will serve to alleviate traffic congestion.
“This road is part of City Hall’s master plan,” he said. “We recognize that these people have occupied this land, but we did not cheat them or steal their land.”