Riverfront Squatters Elude Eviction Attempt

More than 100 Poipet villagers returned to the National As­sembly Thursday to protest an alleged land grab after a failed early morning municipal operation to return them to Banteay Meanchey province.

The villagers, living under plastic-canopied shelters at the south end of Hun Sen Park, were re­moved Thursday by municipal authorities, who are turning the Bassac riverfront area into a promenade.

Siv Yoeun, a spokesman for the villagers, said about 100 police and military police arrived at their camp at 2 am and forced about 80 people onto a truck bound for Banteay Meanchey.

Many villagers escaped the roundup, Siv Yoeun said, adding that those on the truck later escaped back to Phnom Penh.

Nearly six months after the villagers first protested loss of their land for a Poipet casino, they again were camped in the park opposite the National Assembly late Thursday morning.

The villagers lived in that park for several months last year until authorities forced them to leave.

“If the authorities solve this problem, we will go back,” Siv Yoeun said. “We don’t want to stay in Phnom Penh. I have a job in Poipet. We have only come here for our land.”

Pok Kosal, deputy governor of Daun Penh district, said the 300 families were told last week to leave the area near the Bassac River and offered them free transport to Banteay Meanchey.

About 60 families remained at the site early Thursday when authorities arrived with eight trucks, Pok Kosal said. He said only one truck was needed to take the families to Banteay Meanchey.

Only seven of those who boarded the truck actually traveled to Poipet, Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said.

He said some of the  families, admitted that they were not actually from Poipet, but are from other provinces.

“They were organized by ringleaders to say they were from Poi­pet so they could receive assistance from the King,” Chea So­phara said.

Pok Kosal said the villagers can gather in front of the National Assembly but can’t cook food or sleep there.

“That place is very clean now, and we are taking care of the park. They cannot do like they did before,” Pok Kosal said.

As part of the promenade project, the municipality already has relocated 294 families from the Bassac River bank area to land in Prey Sa commune, Dangkao district, said Nhem Saran, director of the Municipal Department of Public Works and Trans­portation.

Land vacated by those villagers, and more land still to be cleared of families, will be turned into a riverfront promenade and gardens stretching from Hun Sen Park to Monivong Bridge.

Nhem Saran also said the Naga Casino, which operates on a ship near the shore, will move a few hundred meters south of its location to the site of a hotel complex to be built on land along the Bassac river front.

Chea Sophara said in October that he welcomed the multimillion-dollar hotel, but the casino should be moved outside the city.



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