Lake Residents Protest Outside Korean Embassy

Boeng Kak lake residents staged another protest Monday, taking complaints about being forced from their homes to the South Korean Embassy in Phnom Penh, but officials there said Korea has no ties to the company responsible for the controversial development project.

About 50 residents from around Boeng Kak lake gathered in front of the embassy building Monday morning, spurred by reports that Shukaku Inc—the private firm that has a $79-million, 99-year lease with City Hall to fill the lake and develop a residential and retail area—is partially South Korean owned.

Bearing signs and a letter to Korean Ambassador Shin Hyun-suk, the protesters asked the em­bassy to intervene as a mediator in the dispute.

“We have sent a petition to Phnom Penh Municipality, the company, cabinet of the Prime Minister, and National Assembly seeking help from these institutions to solve the problem, but no action has been taken,” the letter said.

The residents are demanding market-rate payment for their land instead of the options the company and municipality are offering to each family: $8,500 in cash, housing in Dangkao district about 45 minutes outside the city center, or housing near Boeng Kak lake after the development is completed.

“Eight thousand dollars is not enough for them, so they want the embassy to talk with the company to help find a reasonable resolution,” said Ing Sileng, a Boeng Raing commune council member.

A single protester was allowed inside the embassy grounds to present a request letter from the residents, accompanied by an English-speaking NGO worker who translated.

Bunn Rachana, of the Housing Rights Task Force, who translated the discussion, said the embassy representatives said that, as far as he knew, Shukaku is not a Korean company.

“[As far as they know] this company is not a Korean company,” Bunn Rachana said.

A Korean Embassy official confirmed later the tenor of the talks: “We know the Korean investors here, and we have never heard of this company. Even today I checked with Ministry of Com­merce,” Sangkwang Lee, commercial attache at the embassy, said by phone Monday.

There are about 1,500 Korean companies registered to do business in Cambodia, and although cursory checks show Shukaku isn’t one of them, the embassy will continue to investigate, he said.

Ministry of Commerce documents show that when Shukaku first registered with the government as a private limited business Feb 20, 2005, the only two shareholders were Cambodians: Lao Meng Khin and Chheung Sopheap.

Lao Meng Khin is a CPP senator and the director of both Shu­kaku and the Pheapimex Group. Chheung Sopheap, better known as Yeay Phou, is Lao Meng Khin’s wife and the owner of Pheapimex, a local business giant.

Two other shareholders with Chi­nese names with addresses in China and Hong Kong, were ad­d­ed to the business registration document on Sept 20, 2007, but removed Aug 20, 2008.

Neither Lao Meng Khin nor Chheung Sopheap could be reached for comment.

Deputy Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong said he was too busy to speak with a reporter Monday about the filling of Boeng Kak.

“[The residents] have the right to protest if they do not agree, but this demonstration does not affect the Boeng Kak development plan at all,” said In Sokthan, Srah Chak deputy commune chief, while ob­ser­ving the embassy protest.

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