Residents Fear Eviction Before Compensation

When Russei Keo district authorities demolished some 20 homes last October for the widening of National Road 6A east of the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, Nith Seng Theng thought he would be safe rebuilding just beyond the new road’s boundary line.

In April, however, Mr Seng Theng learned he would have to move again as the road is to be made even wider. Phnom Penh Municipality is widening 4 km of the busy road to 27.5 meters. And now that surveyors have started showing up to take precise measurements, he and dozens of other families living in the project’s path fear compensation will prove paltry.

“I will remove my house myself if they pay me compensation,” Mr Seng Theng said yesterday, squatting next to the gasoline stand he and his wife run in front of their home, a corrugated metal affair atop four wooden stilts.

“But today I am really worried the authorities will do the same thing they did to my house and other villagers’ homes [in October] because they have armed force and we don’t,” he said.

Deputy district Governor Koup Slesh said on Tuesday that authorities had identified 88 families in Chroy Changva commune that would have to relocate completely and about 300 other families whose properties cross the road’s new boundary line and would have to be adjusted.

In neighboring Prek Leap commune, where surveys were ongoing and the number of affected families could rise, district officials have al­ready identified nine families who will have to move, and 100 whose properties would have to recede.

“Of course the traffic jams along National Road 6A are quite bad,” Mr Slesh said. “The road widening will help stop disorder and [reduce] traffic congestion.”

As for compensation for the families who will be evicted and lose their land, Mr Slesh said authorities would make a compensation offer after finishing their surveys.

Nhem Saran, director of Phnom Penh’s public works and transportation department, declined to say how much the three-year road widening project was expected to cost but noted that about $1.4 million had been set aside to cover work through 2010. Compensation for evicted families, however, might come from the national budget or possibly even foreign donors, Mr Saran added.

Like the residents facing re­moval, local human rights groups fear the government’s offer will come only after it has evicted all families.

“Villagers’ homes are always torn down [first]. Then they are forced to accept very little compensation,” said Ouch Leng, a monitor for the human rights organization Adhoc.

“As always, villagers whose homes are affected by the state’s development projects, like road enlargements, their homes are demolished first and then the compensation process gets started,” said Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for the human rights group Licadho.

“Villagers’ housing rights have been abused and properties have been destroyed,” he said. “We hope the evictees-to-be along National Road 6A will be compensated fairly, otherwise it will make them fall into poverty.”

Roeun Rany said yesterday that she and her family have lived on the same 10-by-15-meter plot along the road for the past 20 years and they have the paperwork to prove it.

With the issue of compensation not even being discussed yet, Ms Rany said she feared losing her property and getting nothing in return.

“I must be compensated at least $10,000 for the loss of my home and land,” she said.


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