Sitting on more than $100,000 of land, Nop Srieng believes it is worth fighting for more.
With 16,000 square meters of land on Koh Pich, an island across from NagaCorp casino, and an offer for $6.75 per square meter from the municipality, she could walk away a rich woman.
But Nop Srieng and other villagers say they have no choice but to push the municipality and property developers for more money because they won’t be able to afford a similar amount of land in such a prime location anywhere else in Phnom Penh.
“I cannot buy new land with this money because [prime land] is between $20 and $30 per square meter,” Nop Srieng said Sunday. “I am waiting for a better price…. I think I have a strong case.”
Last month, the municipality issued an ultimatum to 23 families still living on Koh Pich: Accept the price offered by City Hall or face a battle in court.
While the deadline passed without incident, dozens of families, the majority of them poor and with little to no documentation to support their generally smaller land claims in court, have already accepted the offer following similar ultimatums.
But those that remain have land titles and are confidence that they can win a court battle if it comes to that.
Their land has been valued at about $23 per square meter they said.
“We understand this price is not enough,” said Chum Sam Oeun, who owns more than 15,000 square meters, some of which he rents to farmers, and has been offered $7.50 per square meter. “I also want another plot of land to live on.”
If the case does go to court, Chum Sam Oeun said he and the other islanders will fight for fair compensation but they don’t know who will represent them.
“We are afraid a private lawyer can be bribed,” he said. “We would need [the Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project] but if we could not get them or they did not want to then we would defend ourselves.”
One 41-year-old villager who asked not to be named said Pilap has continually told the villagers that if the municipality or developers attempt to circumvent the law, the NGO will help.
But she didn’t know if Pilap would be willing to help her get more for her 4,000 square meters—she’s already been offered about $24,000—but she hoped so.
“We will go to court if the lawsuit is filed but we are small ones so we will find it difficult,” the woman said.
Brian Rohan of Pilap said Sunday, “we are in contact with those who remain on the island and are in the process of discussing the best ways to proceed with the case.”
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatevong said Sunday he would not comment on Koh Pich.