The election aftermath may be stalling government work, but the Phnom Penh Municipality was busy Thursday overseeing the destruction and removal of a shanty town of cardboard, bamboo and thatch homes built on the reeking mounds of garbage at the city dump.
Dozens of heavily armed military police and riot police, backed up by a large gang of tough-looking youths, took part in the operation to topple the small lean-to houses and to evict some 200 families that have made the Meanchey district dump home.
Those uprooted by authorities on Thursday claimed the eviction operation got under way with several homes being burned to the ground. Fearing the same, residents reluctantly dismantled shacks on the mountains of compacted garbage as armed officials looked on.
District authorities overseeing the operation would not comment.
“I had 5 kg of rice in my house, and that burned, too,” said 25-year-old Hem Thida as she wept beside a blanket of ash that had earlier been her home.
Leaving Prey Veng province because of hardship caused by successive years of flooding, Hem Thida, her husband and two children had lived at the city dump for more than a year, she claimed.
Standing guard over a small bundle of belongings she was able to salvage from the flames, Hem Thida said she did not know where she would move next. “Before the election, they did not force us out, but after the election they burned us down,” said dump resident Chhum Pov, 32.
“The village chief promised to solve this problem if we voted CPP. But after they win, and are in a new government, they do not solve this,” he said.
Hailing from Kampot, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Takeo provinces, residents at the dump said they tolerated the flies, stench and the trash rummaging after poverty forced them to leave the countryside.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema on Thursday defended the eviction order, saying the people at the dump had been drawn there by the government’s benevolence last year when 100 dump families were resettled.
“They are new people who came because they heard the municipality gave the plots of land. We already gave 100 families plots of land,” Kep Chuktema said.
“We can’t let them stay like this [in the dump]. Those people have the house near the dump… they are the new families,” Kep Chuktema said.
Though their homes have been removed, the dump residents will be allowed to continue scavenging the site, he added.
Sam Sy, a staff member at the NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For the Smile of a Child), which works with dump residents, said on Thursday that some may have homes nearby, but others had traveled from the provinces.
“I dare not interfere in this case,” Sam Sy said.
Human rights workers also reported that some of those evicted Thursday had been residents for some time.
Local human rights group Licadho will provide food and water to 12 families who lost their homes Thursday.
Stung Meanchey commune Chief Seng Sanh said Thursday that he ordered the eviction of 217 families living at the dump because the land is needed for more garbage.