With a peaceful deployment of dozens of riot police officers, the relocation of some of the 1,000 families living in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Bassac commune proceeded on Thursday.
By the end of the day, 121 families agreed to be trucked to the relocation site 22 km from the center of Phnom Penh. There they found $10, 25 kg of rice and a small blue tarp waiting for each family, provided by the Sour Srun company, which is taking over the land they vacated near the Russian Embassy.
Officials with Sour Srun, which trucked the families and their belongings, were also busy adding landfill to the relocation site in Dangkao district to reduce flooding.
There are 1,700 plots at the relocation site for the villagers.
Several hundred people, including renters at the commune who have not been allocated 5-meter-by-12-meter plots of land in Dangkao district, staged a protest against the eviction at about 9 am on Thursday.
The protest blocked all Sour Srun trucks from entering and exiting the riverside community for about an hour.
At around 10 am, 20 to 30 intervention police officers arrived and were met with an angry response.
“If the prime minister refuses to help us, to find justice for us, then our children die, they will have no place to live,” a woman shouted. “They are cheating us, they are very corrupt. Go to beat them,” another shouted in the faces of the intervention police, while several villagers beat the officers’ shields with their fists.
In formation, the police then used their shields to push through the blockade, which enabled trucks to enter the community.
At the relocation site, Penh Sameth, 54, who rents out a billiards table, sat with her belongings strewn in the mud and said she had been pressured into agreeing to come.
“They forced me to dismantle my house. They threatened that if you resist, you will not receive the land,” she said. Nearby a poster listing nine protester demands, including larger plots of land and building materials, lay in the dirt.
Another family sat breaking rock into pieces to lay a dry foundation in the mud for their tent.
“The company promises to add more dirt to protect [the site] from floods,” Sour Srun’s lawyer, Chea Chanravy, told reporters.
The relocation package that the families are receiving stands in contrast to that given to the victims of a suspicious fire that ravaged the Tonle Bassac community in 2001.
Samaky One relocation village —where people were relocated after the fire—is now five years old and features larger plots of land with brick houses.
“One thousand and twenty families originally relocated here in 2001 and at that time, they had $400 loans for housing…and materials,” Samaky One village Chief Sok Sovannara said.
But despite these advantages over the families being relocated now, he said, 60 percent of those who relocated in 2001 eventually left the village, many returning to the Tonle Bassac commune as squatters. Many left due to a lack of job opportunities on the outskirts of the capital, he added.