12 hectares to be set aside on site for residents
Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered that more than 12 hectares of land be set aside for residents living around Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake, a move that means thousands of residents will likely now not face eviction from the area.
The premier’s surprise decision, announced in a sub-decree, comes after the World Bank revealed last week that it had frozen funding to Cambodia in response to the ongoing eviction of thousands of families from Boeng Kak to make way for a high-end private residential and retail development.
The sub-decree, signed by Mr Hun Sen on Aug 11 and given to lake residents yesterday evening, divides Boeng Kak’s 126.85 hectares of land into two sections, with 114.41 hectares going to private developer Shukaku Inc and 12.44 hectares going to the residents who have fought for years against their expulsion. There are no details in the sub-decree regarding how the land will be distributed or to which families the land will be given.
“For the 12.44 hectares of land […] the government grants to the citizens,” the sub-decree states.
The sub-decree charges the Council of Ministers, the Interior Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Land Management Ministry, the Water Resources Ministry and the Phnom Penh Municipality with the task of enforcing “this sub-decree with a high level of effectiveness from the date of signing.”
More than 3,000 families have had their lakeside homes flooded with sand or otherwise been forced to abandon land occupied by some for decades in the wake of Shukaku’s work, which is headed by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin.
Around 1,000 of the original 3,000 families are still holding out at Boeng Kak, refusing to accept Shukaku’s offers of paltry compensation or relocation to the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Both Shukaku and Erdos Hong Jun Investment, the Chinese firm backing the project with a $2.17 billion plan approved by the government’s foreign investment board earlier this year, have remained silent on the evictions.
On Aug 8, the World Bank revealed that it had frozen funding to Cambodia, following its threat in March that it would reconsider aid levels to Cambodia in response to the ongoing eviction of lake residents.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that though he was unaware of the sub-decree, any decisions made by the government regarding Boeng Kak lake would have nothing to do with the World Bank freezing its funds.
“It has nothing to do with World Bank pressure,” Mr Siphan said.
“The Boeng Kak issue has been solved through the Phnom Penh mayor and the people,” he said, referring to municipal governor Kep Chuktema.
For months, the hold-out Boeng Kak families have been protesting and calling on Mr Hun Sen for help, asking him to ensure that Shukaku give them 4-by-16-meter, ground-floor apartment blocks at the project site in compensation for the homes they will be losing.
At Boeng Kak yesterday, villagers welcomed the sub-decree, but with some reservations.
“This is a big success for us. We would like to thank Samdech Hun Sen for offering us the land,” said Tep Vanny, a villager representative. However, “we want City Hall and the government to announce this to the public about offering the land.”
For Non Sokheng, another villager representative, the sub-decree represented the beginning of a new era for lakeside villagers who have been fighting against eviction.
“We will not worry about eviction, arrests and beatings,” she said.