The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee met with municipal officials on Friday seeking an immediate halt to the relocation of more than 1,000 families living in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Bassac commune, but were denied the request, rights workers said.
The coalition of 21 NGOs and international rights groups said in a statement Thursday that it was unclear how land at the relocation site on the outskirts of Phnom Penh would be distributed fairly to villagers, adding that the site is not ready to be lived on.
“We regret to say that although the municipality knows the problems at the relocation site and the problems caused by the demolition, they said they would not halt it,” Yeng Virak, director of the Community Legal Education Center, said at a press conference after meeting with deputy governors Mann Chhoeun and Pa Socheatavong.
The committee also called for an investigation into how some villagers are receiving multiple plots of land at the new site, and into how the government came to sell the Tonle Bassac property to the Sour Srun company.
“This is the biggest mistake of the government, selling off lakes and public land without considering the social consequences,” said Cambodian Center for Human Rights President Kem Sokha.
Women living at site said at the press conference that children there are falling sick because they are sleeping amid the garbage after their homes were dismantled.
Families continued to leave the site peacefully on Friday, and Sour Srun lawyer Chea Chanravy said 400 families had been relocated since the eviction began on Wednesday.
Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday stating that 1,216 families have illegally settled on land belonging to Sour Srun.
He added that 1,117 families have volunteered to live at the new site, while the remaining families are renting the land, and are therefore not entitled to plots at the new site.
“The solution for the renters will be solved in the next step,” Kep Chuktema wrote, though he did not elaborate.