Railroad tracks stretching from National Road 5 through several communes in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district have been out of service for decades. Homes line either side of the railway, and motorbikes bump along the stretches that are free of shops and rubbish.
But in the coming months, a plan to pave the corridor into a 5-km-long road will cut into the land currently home to hundreds of families, officials said on Tuesday.
“We will build this road because we need to have many intersecting roads to drive on in the city,” Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong said during a press conference he held on Tuesday after meeting with residents to notify them of the plan.
“This railway is no longer necessary,” he added.
The project is expected to take five months to complete, he said. Fifteen meters of land will be required on either side of the tracks to fit a four-lane road, a garden to serve as a median and sidewalks with drainage systems, he added.
Where the road cuts into villagers’ homes, occupants will receive either compensation or alternate living arrangements, Mr. Socheatvong said, adding that those who choose to stay on remaining land along the new road will also receive official land titles.
“We have the ability to find a solution that is suitable for people along the railway,” he said.
The government scaled down its original plan for a 60-meter-wide road in order to preserve more homes, he added.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said a working group was in the process of determining how many families faced losing their land and would begin negotiating compensation with them in the near future.
He added that he did not know the estimated cost of the project and referred questions to municipal transportation department officials, who could not be reached.
According to Eang Vuthy, the executive director of Equitable Cambodia, an NGO that advocates for communities facing eviction or locked in land disputes, hundreds of families will be affected by the project.
“If they’re going to build a 30-meter [wide] road…it’s going to affect so much, so many families,” he said.
“It’s good that the government organized this kind of forum to inform people, but the government needs to give enough time to explain the project and resettlement so people are clear,” he added.
While the government has the right to repurpose land for public services, he said, “I hope the government will listen to the people, whether it’s [to] continue or stop the process.”
Say Leang Eng, a 35-year-old food vendor who has lived along the tracks for 20 years, said she was keeping an open mind about the proposal.
“I have only 6 meters. It’s not even equal to one side of the road,” she said. “I don’t want to oppose them, but please provide suitable compensation.”
“If they evict us without giving us anything, we won’t keep calm,” she added.
(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)