Land Activist Groups Converge on City Hall

About 50 residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Chhouk village protested in front of City Hall on Wednesday against the ongoing efforts of local authorities to evict them from their homes.

Russei Keo district authorities accuse some 600 families of squatting on state land and have repeatedly ordered them to leave, but the families claim they have the right to live there and are refusing to move.

Boeng Chhouk resident Touch Sam On speaks with reporters in front of Phnom Penh City Hall on Wednesday during a protest against Russei Keo district's efforts to evict him and about 600 other families from their homes. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Boeng Chhouk resident Touch Sam On speaks with reporters in front of Phnom Penh City Hall on Wednesday during a protest against Russei Keo district’s efforts to evict him and about 600 other families from their homes. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

According to the villagers, the authorities’ last attempt to move them came Monday when deputy district governor Chea Pisey arrived with district security guards to prevent them from making repairs to their homes.

“We were just replacing our old palm-frond roof with a zinc roof because of the rainy season,” said Touch Sam On, who joined the protest in front of City Hall on Wednesday. “But the authorities claimed that I was living illegally on state land so I had no right to repair my house.”

Mr. Sam On said the deputy governor then gave him three days to tear down his entire house, sparking Wednesday’s protest.

The protesters rallied in front of City Hall for several hours and were prevented by security guards from entering the compound to deliver a petition asking the municipal government to intervene on their behalf. They eventually left and headed for the National Assembly, where the opposition-headed human rights commission did accept their petition.

At City Hall, the Boeng Chhouk group was joined by about 60 other activists who had already been evicted from the city’s Boeng Kak neighborhood and had come to demand more compensation.

The city evicted some 3,000 families from Boeng Kak to make way for CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin’s high-end real estate project, for which he paid the city $79 million to secure a 99-year lease of the area in 2007.

Families were offered a choice between an $8,500 payout or $500 and an apartment on the outskirts of the city, options the evictees said were unjust.

“We got little compensation and were forced to leave; we had no choice,” said Sear Nareth. “They stole our land. If there is no more compensation, we will not stop protesting.”

From City Hall, the Boeng Kak evictees headed to the site of their old homes—now a construction site—and protested there until about noon.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the municipal government could do nothing for either group as the Boeng Chhouk families were squatting on public land and the Boeng Kak evictees had already received compensation.

“We cannot solve their problem because they already got compensation,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t want them to be rich, but we can’t afford it.”

sokhean@cambodiadaily.com

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