Phnom Penh municipal authorities defended the Jan 24 eviction of the Dey Krahorm community by issuing a statement on Friday that singled out NGO worker David Pred and called into question the number of families affected.
“Recently there were comments about the relocation of Dey Krahorm. Local and international NGOs and opposition parties accused authorities of using violence to evict the Dey Krahorm people,” the statement read.
The statement, which wasn’t signed, but was stamped with the city hall emblem, called last weekend’s eviction a “last resort.”
About 300 police and 300 demolition workers—each paid the equivalent of $15—were used to evict the remaining Dey Krahorm residents, government leaders have said. The community, which until last weekend sat across the street from the Russian Embassy, had been fighting eviction for more than three years.
Government workers have been trying to move the community out to make way for private development firm 7NG to build new homes and offices on the 3.6-hectare piece of prime real estate.
The City Hall statement said municipal authorities had been trying to negotiate with the Dey Krahorm community since 2005.
“We met with the people several times to seek suitable solutions for them. Recently, Mann Chhoeun, Phnom Penh deputy governor, held a press conference about this problem. But there was no resolution and consideration in the press conference. Mr David Pred, the director of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, walked out of the press conference without being reasonable. This situation shows that there is no full cooperation with the city hall fully in terms of decision-making,” the statement said.
City Hall also pointed out disparities in the population estimates at Dey Krahorm and said government leaders were pursuing redevelopment “for security, order and a good environment, and not just for the people of Phnom Penh, but for the benefit of the whole nation.”
In a comment sent via text message Friday, Prad said the municipality could still help the evicted families.
“I hope that the municipality will now demonstrate its concern for the people and its commitment to the healthy development of the city by ensuring that the evicted families receive fair and just restitution for the land and homes that they have lost,” he said.
Chan Vichet, a representative of the Dey Krahorm community, said the statement was disingenuous.
“Most of the villagers who left did so under threat,” he said.
“I still demand $20,000 and will continue to complain about land disputes in the future,” Chan Vichet said, noting that he has currently living in the Phnom Penh office of the local rights group Licadho.
Meanwhile, human rights organizations continued to criticize the Dey Krahorm eviction and expressed concern about the wellbeing of the evictees who are now camped out at the relocation site near Damnak Trayeoung village, in Dangkao district.
“It is regrettable that the ongoing negotiations with the residents were abandoned, casting aside a valuable opportunity to reach a just and lawful solution to this longstanding dispute,” UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, wrote in a statement dated Friday.
“It is now of utmost importance that the rights of the residents to fair compensation for their lost homes and property and the provision of adequate alternative housing are fully respected,” Rolnik wrote.
Those concerns were echoed by Licadho, the local rights group, in another statement issued Friday evening.
“Licadho is deeply concerned that 7NG refuses to provide cash compensation to an estimated 144 evicted house owners, insisting that instead it will only provide some (and not all) of them with apartments at the Damnak Trayeoung relocation site outside of Phnom Penh city. 7NG has imposed a deadline of January 31 for 85 of the house owners to register to accept apartments or they will receive nothing at all.”
It continued: “As well as the house owners, Licadho is also concerned by 7NG’s treatment of former market stall-holders at Dey Krahorm and house renters there, who were also evicted. As compensation for the loss of their livelihoods, 7NG is offering some of the former market-stall holders a one-square meter piece of land at the market in Damnak Traye[o]ung.”
“Again, the company is demanding that they accept this by January 31 or receive nothing. For house renters, the company has said that it will not provide them with any compensation and is demanding that they leave the relocation site where they are currently camped.”
A survey by NGOs shows that there are at least 335 families—or 1,238 people—camped at the relocation site. That includes 488 children, 16 pregnant women and 19 women who are breastfeeding babies, according to Licadho.