Mass Eviction Looms Ahead Of East Asia Summit

Hundreds of families living near Phnom Penh International Airport are facing imminent eviction from their homes as security preparations begin for world leaders who will attend next month’s Asean and East Asia summits.

A total of 387 families living on 6.3 hectares of land to the east and south of the airport have been told to leave their homes to make way for a security road, a longer runway and so-called “buffer zones” for planes carrying international delegations, including U.S. President Barack Obama, said Sok Suthoeun, chief of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA).

“We need to extend the runway, and we plan to build a security road for international delegates visiting Cambodia to attend the summits next month. We hope that President Barack Obama will also come, as he was invited to attend,” he said.

Mr. Suthoeun said that a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and officials at the SSCA is scheduled for today at the Council of Ministers to discuss the evictions as well as the security arrangements for the world leaders arriving in Phnom Penh for the summits, which run between November 18 and 20.

During a briefing to reporters on Thursday in New York, a U.S. State Department official confirmed the attendance of Mr. Obama at the Phnom Penh summit—the first ever visit to Cambodia by a sitting U.S. president. China’s Wen Jiabao, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and India’s Manmohan Singh are also scheduled to attend the conference.

The 387 families from Prey Chisak, Thmar Kaul and Kauk Chambak villages in Choam Chao commune were first served with notices to vacate their homes in July. At that time, they were told the evictions were because of a 3-hectare expansion plan to the airport’s runway and terminal building.

In September, the government then halved the project and told 182 families to vacate their homes because of a plan to build a security road around the airport for Mr. Obama’s visit.

Choam Chao deputy commune chief Var Sarang said that orders to improve security around the airport for world leaders had only recently been conveyed to the local authorities.

“We have had this plan to expand the airport for a while, but we have never mentioned security before. We just got these guidelines from the top level,” he said.

Sean McIntosh, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, deferred questions about the evictions to the Cambodian government.

“As far as security for the East Asia Summit, I defer to the Cambodian government. These are Cambodian government actions they are taking. It’s not just President Obama coming; it’s other world leaders as well,” he said.

Mr. McIntosh added that he was not aware of any discussions between Cambodian and U.S. officials about the evictions or additional security preparations for Mr. Obama. “We never made any such requests,” he said.

When asked if plans were in store for an expansion of the city’s airport, Khek Norinda, communications director for Cambodia Airports, the national airport operator, said: “The displacement, which is being handled by local authorities, lies on safety and security grounds to be compliant with regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization.”

Families facing eviction have filed complaints with the government against local officials whom they say gave them permission, over many years, to build their homes on the land in the first place. However, local officials have claimed that the families are living on the land illegally, an allegation that is being contested by human rights workers.

Residents in the area said yesterday they would not be leaving their homes voluntarily.

“I will commit suicide by setting myself on fire if the authority destroys my house without paying me compensation,” said Tes Thoeu, 70, whose home in Prey Chisak village stands to be flattened by the expansion plan.

Ms. Thoeu said she had purchased her 8-meter-by-19-meter plot of land for $13,500 in the 1980s.

“We will not agree to leave if the authority forces us to leave without compensation,” said Chray Nim, 34, a representative for those living in Thmar Kaul village. She added that the nearly 400 families will hold a protest on Monday at the National Assembly where they will file a petition against the airport’s expansion plans.

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