Boeng Kak lake residents facing eviction in the face of a massive private land development project said city officials yesterday showed them a letter from the Council of Ministers asking the municipality to grant land titles to residents of the area.
About 100 Boeng Kak residents gathered at Phnom Penh City Hall yesterday morning to protest their pending evictions. Ly Mom, a representative of the residents, said a city official-who declined to give his name-showed the protestors the letter from the Council of Minister and let them take notes, but refused to give them even a copy.
According to their notes, the Council of Ministers has asked the municipality “to cut out the location of the civil servants and villagers who are located in the Boeng Kak development project, and requests the issuance of land titles for the real estate of the permanent residents.”
Ms Mom said the letter was signed by Khun Chinken, identified by a senior government official as a “deputy secretary-general of the government.”
Mr Chinken said he was too busy to speak when contacted yesterday afternoon.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was not aware of the letter requesting land titles for Boeng Kak’s residents.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said only that the city had received the protestors’ request for land title and would pass in on to the governor.
Though land rights groups have argued that by law residents living around Boeng Kak lake should have been issued with land titles, they have been excluded from the land titling process. The selective discrimination against Boeng Kak’s residents is the focus of an internal probe by the World Bank, which financed the government’s land titling program until it was canceled by the government in September.
Shukaku Inc, a private firm owned by ruling party Senator Lao Meng Khin, was in 2007 granted a 99-year lease for the 130 hectares that include Boeng Kak lake, which is being filled in with sand, and surrounding property. Shukaku has filled in nearly half the lake and displaced a quarter of the roughly 4,000 families living in the area.
Housing Rights Task Force Director Sia Phearum said he was surprised by the reported contents of the Council of Ministers’ letter, but he remained wary.
“[The residents] were not given a copy” of the letter, he said.
A depiction of the future site-obtained by the Housing Rights Task Force last week-envisions a series of towers and lower structures built over the lake, filled in save for two ponds connected by a stream.
David Pred, executive director of housing rights group Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said the project has been illegal from the start.
“The Constitution, the Land Law and the Law on Expropriation make clear that property can only be expropriated by the State in the public interest and after people have been paid compensation, based on the market price, in advance,” Mr Pred said in an e-mail.
“The Law on Expropriation sets out an exhaustive list of all the types of projects that are considered to be in the public interest, and a private residential, business and tourism development such as the Boeng Kak development project is not on the list,” he said.
Mr Pred the law also requires the government to consult affected residents, keep them well informed and give them a chance to challenge what its idea of the “public interest” is.
“Unless these provisions are followed,” Mr Pred said, “the expropriation of the Boeng Kak residents’ property will continue to be illegal.”