Phnom Penh officials have threatened legal action against residents living on Boeng Trabek if they do not stop filling the lake with dirt and give up the newly formed land.
“The municipality does not allow any citizen to grab and fill the lake,” according to an order issued by governor Kep Chutkema on Friday. “All those people filling the lake in order to own some of the 26 hectares [that the lake covers] must immediately stop all activities. Otherwise the municipality will take legal action.”
If residents have been issued land titles in the past, the letter says, they have 15 days to bring them to the commune office.
Boeng Trabek commune Chief Sen Bote said there are more than 100 families living in three communes around the lake, with 21 in his commune.
Thirteen families filled in parts of the lake and built houses years ago while eight have posted fences in the lake but have not built houses.
First deputy governor Mam Bun Neang said all homes and buildings erected by residents who do not have land titles will be removed.
“The municipality has informed and ordered those villagers to stop [filling the lake] many times, but some are still ignoring us,” he said. “The size of lake is becoming smaller and smaller.”
In 1999, the lake covered a 37-hectare area, Mam Bun Neang said.
Boeng Trabek resident Long Srey, who says he has lived on lake-filled land since 1985, said 100 families sent a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking for his intervention Saturday after they received the order.
He accused the government of issuing the order so it could keep the residents from taking possession of the land to allow a private company to develop it.
Several other lakes around the city, including Boeng Pong Peay—one of the city’s biggest lakes—are being filled and the land bought up by officials and businesses.
A municipal official who asked not to be named said Sunday the filling of Boeng Pong Peay has been suspended pending an investigation.