While several government officials have stated publicly over the last week that forced evictions do not take place in Cambodia, several organizations Wednesday sent representatives to hold a news conference at Andong Thmei, a relocation site for thousands of evictees on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
“They keep saying there are no forced evictions. Do you have a camera?” asked Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, prior to the news conference at Andong Thmei that was attended by representatives from the World Bank and the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights among others.
An estimated 1,600 families were evicted from Sambok Chap in Phnom Penh’s centrally located Tonle Bassac commune about 20 months ago and relocated to Andong Thmei in Dangkao district.
Christian churches have built a few toilets and an overcrowded school is available to some, but Andong Thmei is still what Human Rights Watch senior researcher Sara Colm called a “fetid swamp.”
Green sticky creeks of trash run between rows of densely packed thatched roof houses.
“We have come to this eviction site to see with our own eyes,” International Federation for Human Rights President Souhayr Belhassen said at the village.
“Did we invent reality? Did we say something contrary to the truth?”
International observers visiting the site Wednesday said they were skeptical public condemnation of government practices would lead to real change in the government’s policies, but with 7,000 people in Phnom Penh currently facing eviction and the rate of evictions escalating, Colm said it’s more important than ever to reiterate the call for an end to forced evictions and the betterment of living conditions at sites like Andong.
Colm said she thought there might be a hiatus in evictions prior to the election, but that it would be crucial to watch what happened following the July poll.
Evictee Ken Sovannarith, 35, said his family has been at Andong Thmei for nearly two years but has yet to receive a promised land title.
“My family is living in fear that we will be evicted again, as we do not have any hope to get a plot of land here,” he said, adding that conditions would surely worsen when the rains came to the low-lying area—just as they did last year.
Pil Pan, a Dangkao district social affairs official, said that only 440 of the 1,600 families have received official 4 by 6 meter plots.
“We are now lacking land to give [the remaining families]. It is not clear whether we will give them land here or somewhere else,” he said.
Of the recent international criticism of government eviction policies, he said that such groups were just doing their job.
“It is their job to criticize us. We are doing our best,” he said.
Nguon Nhel, CPP National Assembly first vice president, said the relocation of people to sites like Andong Thmei was part of the inevitable development of the nation, and the government is working to build up the relocation site.
“The criticism is an idea for us…to take into consideration,” he said.