Authorities have withdrawn an offer to relocate residents left homeless by a March 8 fire that swept through Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak II commune in Tuol Kok district, officials said yesterday. Instead, the 257 families from the commune’s villages 104 and 105 will be allocated 3.92 m by 5.5 m plots of land on the original site-a smaller area than many residents lived on before the fire-so as to leave room for required road improvements in the area.
Tuol Kok district Governor Seng Ratanak said yesterday that an earlier offer of relocation for the residents of the fire-destroyed villages, to a site in Dangkao district’s Choam Chao commune, only applied to the residents as a group, and that because some wished to remain, none would be allowed to move.
And though the families will be allowed to rebuild their razed homes, albeit on smaller plots due to the road widening scheme, they will never be given legal land titles, Mr Ratanak said yesterday.
“The main problem is internal disagreements [among the residents],” he said, adding that the land would be measured this week before being divided up among the villagers.
Splits had developed among the residents, with around 170 families agreeing to move to 5-meter by 12-meters plots at the proposed relocation site in Dangkao, while around 67 families wished to remain and rebuild their homes exactly as they had been before.
Commune chief Van Sareth said that around 182 of the affected families had met on Friday afternoon at nearby Neak Voan Pagoda to discuss this latest development.
The general consensus was among the residents in attendance was that authorities would stick to their original offer of relocation for those who opted for that offer and that some residents could stay behind on the original land.
“We are not entirely certain about this issue yet,” the commune chief said.
Kith Sienghai, 27, was a member of one of the 170 families who had agreed to move to the relocation site and the prospect on staying on a smaller plot in the burned out village was not what she had bargained for.
“I cannot live on such small land because there are 12 people in my family,” she said. “I would be very happy to live on the new site that the authorities gave us,” she said, referring to the original offer of relocation.
Residents were first offered the chance to relocate by Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema on March 10, according to Mr Sareth, the commune chief.
On June 2, Tuol Kok Deputy District Governor Thim Sam An confirmed that the relocation would take place regardless of what happened to the holdout families. He repeated the relocation offer on June 8, when he said that authorities needed one more month to prepare the new site.
Those who had decided to remain on their original plots of land have accused to government of blocking their attempts to rebuild on their old sites, and the new order to call of relocation and reduce everyone’s land will be seen as a collective punishment for defying the authorities’ plans.
On June 5, a scuffle broke out between police and residents when police entered the community and began removing building materials, according to residents and local rights groups.
Rights groups Adhoc, Licadho and the Housing Rights Task Force issued a joint statement on June 6 calling on authorities to stop what they said amounted to threats against the community for attempting to rebuild their homes.
Around 80 families protested outside Phnom Penh Municipality on June 8 to demand the right to rebuild their homes as before, according to community representative Duong Sothea. He claimed that if authorities didn’t rethink their decision on rebuilding, the residents would take to the streets again in protest.
“I will wait one week for the district governor to resolve this issue,” Mr Sothea said yesterday. “If things are still the same, I will protest again,” he said.