Firm Breaks Ground on Road Through Controversial Lake Project

Construction crews broke ground yesterday on the first of 12 new roads that a private firm is planning to build around and over the recently filled-in section of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake as part of a development project expected to displace thousands.

Government and housing rights officials disagree about how many people the road itself will force out.

At a groundbreaking ceremony near the Phnom Penh railway station, governor Kep Chuktema said the six lane, 1.5-kilometer road, which is to run parallel to and just north of Russian Confederation Boulevard, would help ease increasingly congested traffic.

“There are 180,000 vehicles, 800,000 motorbikes and two million people” in the city, he said. “This road will cut down on many of the traffic jams.”

Chhoeung Sopheap, the owner of the developer Pheapimex who was introduced by Mr Chuktema yesterday as the director of Shukaku Inc, the firm behind the lake project, also attended the ceremony.

Nhem Saran, the city’s director of public works and transportation, said the roads’ approximately $1 million price tag would be covered wholly by Shukaku Inc, and that work would finish by January.

In a move deemed illegal by human rights workers, the city granted the firm a 99-year lease to the area in 2007. The city and firm have been urging the more than 4,000 families believed to be living around the lake to leave ever since.

Srah Chak commune chief Chhay Thirith said the road would only displace one home, in Village 2 along the lake’s western shore, and that city officials planned to meet with the family to work out a fair compensation deal.

But Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said he suspected the road would displace more that that. He could not say how many, however, because he said the city had refused to release plans for the project.

“The prime minister said that development will help reduce poverty,” he said. “But if the development affects [residents’] living standards and makes them poorer, what do they develop for?”

 

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