At least nine homes in Phnom Penh’s Toek Thla commune were demolished and residents of 60 homes evicted Monday to make way for the widening of Hanoi Road, human rights workers and officials said Monday.
Two bulldozers arrived at the community in the recently formed Sen Sok district early Monday morning with more than 50 members of the armed forces to evict residents, said Chan Soveth, an investigator for local rights group Adhoc.
Villager Chin Khan said she lost more than half of her home in the ensuing demolition.
“They arrived and started dismantling my house,” Chin Khan said. “They were all armed, and threatened us with their pistols. We will not agree to remove our houses, which we have lived in for several decades.”
When reached by telephone Monday, newly appointed Sen Sok district Governor Khuong Sreng dismissed the allegation that armed forces had been involved in the demolition.
He said that 64 houses in Toek Thla are affected by plans to widen the road from 8 to 30 meters, but he claimed that only one has been completely destroyed.
That family received as compensation a 32-square-meter plot of land in Chamkar Mon district’s Tumnop Toek commune, he added.
“I acknowledge that some villagers have been living there for a long time, but they live on the sidewalk, which is the state’s property,” said Khuong Sreng, adding that he would next order families in Phnom Penh Thmei commune to leave their homes next week to make way for the road widening.
When the dispute began in 2004, the project was initially set to affect a total of 90 families in Toek Thla, Phnom Penh Thmei and Khmuoy communes, but only 40 families have decided to continue their protest, according to Sek Sovanna, a lawyer for the Community Legal Education Center.
“Some villagers are too exhausted to continue protesting,” she said, adding that she is providing legal advice to the families in anticipation of a “possible lawsuit to be made regarding damages the villagers have suffered.”
(Additional reporting by Bethany Lindsay)