Questions Remain After Premier’s Land Offer

Key questions—and some confusion—remained yesterday for the roughly 1,000 Phnom Penh families whose pending eviction from the Boeng Kak lake area ap­peared to have been averted by the release on Monday of a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Signed by the premier on Thurs­day and leaked Monday evening, the sub-decree assured the families that 12.44 hectares of the Boeng Kak project site would be set aside just for them to live on.

New on-site housing was al­ways one of the three compensation options the government had been offering the 4,000 families originally living around the former Boeng Kak lake. Now, after much acrimony between city officials and skeptical residents, and some violently dispersed pro­tests, the sub-decree settles the matter of just how much land the roughly 1,000 families left in the area will get.

It has also left a number of tricky questions unanswered, and may still make for some bitter negotiations ahead.

With a set piece of land now guaranteed to them, “the residents are happy, but the [Muni­cipality of Phnom Penh] will have to discuss more with them,” said Sia Phear­um, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force.

For one, the sub-decree makes no mention of what sort of housing will inhabit the 12.44-hectare site.

City Hall has repeatedly rejected a request–endorsed by most of the protesting families–for 4-by-16-meter ground-floor apartment units. The municipality wanted to build them multi-story apartment buildings instead. The residents are now dead-set against that idea, worried they will not be able to use them to run the shop-houses many of them presently rely on for a living.

“We are 80 percent hopeful because we received 12.44 hectares, but it does not mention about the 4-by-16 meter apartments,” said Non Sokheng, a representative of the families.

If anything, the sub-degree also appeared to add fuel to a growing feud between the remaining Boeng Kak families, which have splintered into two groups over the past few months.

The apparently smaller of the two groups, which includes a few dozen of the largest landholders, has been demanding a one-to-one land swap for the old properties they would be giving up at Boeng Kak.

Ly Mom, who represents the large Boeng Kak landholders, yesterday claimed support from more than 700 families and said she believed the sub-decree would allow all of them to keep the homes they already have.

Ms Sokheng dismissed Ms Mom’s claim of 700 supporters, and expressed worry her demand for a one-to-one return on property would not leave enough land to fit all of the families at Boeng Kak.

Phnom Penh deputy governor Pa Socheatvong said he had no answers for the families because the details of the plan were still in the works.

“I cannot tell you because we are working and we don’t want to give unclear information,” he said.

It also remained unclear how far the move would go toward convincing the World Bank to lift a freeze on all new lending to Cambodia. Last week, the Bank confirmed that it had imposed the freeze to protest the Boeng Kak evictions and said it would not approve any new loans “until an agreement is reached with the residents.”

Yesterday, the Bank sidestepped specific questions on the freeze but welcomed the sub-decree.

“This appears to be a positive development and we hope that it will lead to a good outcome for the residents,” the Bank’s country director, Annette Dixon, said in a statement.

The government has denied any link between the sub-decree and the Bank’s lending freeze.

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