The Housing Rights Task Force, comprised of the UN High Commission on Human Rights and the US-backed Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project, interviewed villagers Thursday at Koh Pich in Phnom Penh after hearing reports that City Hall was planning their eviction from the island.
“Today was rumored to be a day of forced eviction,” said Brian Rohan, technical advisor for PILAP. “We wanted to come out and talk to people to make sure there’s no problem.”
Early this month, the Municipality ordered 134 villagers to vacate their homes on Koh Pich by Jan 6, a move the task force calls illegal.
Under Article 15 of the 2001 Land Law, islands do not fall under state public property, Rohan said. As long as the villagers have lived on Koh Pich at least five years before the enactment of the law, they are entitled to the land, he added.
Earlier this month, Municipal Deputy Governor Pa Socheatevong defended the order, saying the island was state property, and thus the city had the right to evict.
A member of the UN High Commission on Human Rights, who declined to be named, said some residents called his office and asked for help because they were afraid of being evicted on Thursday. “At least one member will go to Koh Pich everyday to make sure there are no problems,” the UN staffer said. “They are getting scared. We know there was some intimidation.”
The Housing Rights Task Force plans to be on Koh Pich Jan 6 to make sure villagers are not being forced from their land. It plans to deliver a legal memo detailing why the order is illegal to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema and the Cadastral Commission, which settles land disputes.
Villagers allege that when the eviction order was issued village chief Kaing Muny held a meeting where he and some soldiers shot guns in the air to intimidate the villagers, said Kol Kunthea, a resident on the north side of Koh Pich.
Kaing Muny denied that he threatened villagers.