Russei Keo Residents Told to Stop Rebuilding

Villagers from Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district briefly clashed with district police yesterday after police tried to stop them from re­building their homes beside Na­tional Road 6, villagers claimed.

Chim Srey, 38, said she was hit on the shoulder by one district pub­lic order police officer.

“If we started talking, they fought us and pushed our chest…. I was hit on my shoulder,” she said.

Som Mony, district police chief, said yesterday that he was not aware of the incident and said this was not an issue his officers would deal with.

“Police work only on wrongdoing and security,” he said.

The villagers from the district’s Chroy Changva commune were told to clear their land to allow authorities to widen a 4-km stretch of National Road 6A, starting just east of the Cambodia-Ja­pan Friend­ship Bridge.

But almost three months ago, they believed that they had been given a reprieve when Prime Minister Hun Sen apologized to the residents and ordered a re­duction in the width of the road expansion from 60 to 30 meters, allowing many of the residents to remain.

“Samdech [Hun Sen] allowed us to live here. I will consent to leave if he verbally orders me to leave,” Ms Srey said.

District governor Khlaing Huot could not be reached yesterday, while deputy district governors Kob Sleh and Nuth Puth Dara declined to comment. Municipal authorities reached yesterday also declined to comment.

Chroy Changva commune chief Pich Saroeun said he was not aware of yesterday’s incident but said he felt district authorities had not handled the problem well.

“They cannot wait, so they start rebuilding their houses, and district authorities prevent them. I don’t understand this,” he said.

Sung Phon, 46, one of the villagers, said villagers had been rebuilding their homes for the past two months but only started facing problems in the last few days.

Authorities “instructed me to ask permission from the district officials, not the commune officials. But district officials asked me to get permission from City Hall, where I don’t know who I should talk to,” he said.

Mr Phon said he would now consult with other residents about the possibility of delivering a petition to the prime minister.

The villagers held a demonstration outside City Hall on July 13 to protest the eviction, which they thought had been staved off by the prime minister’s intervention.

This year, at least three groups have petitioned the premier for assistance in their disputes, and there have been at least seven protests outside Mr Hun Sen’s homes in Phnom Penh and Takhmau.

One of these cases achieved qualified results when Mr Hun Sen personally ordered Koh Kong provincial authorities to settle the compensation claims of villagers who said they had lost ground to a land concession.

When the premier addressed the residents on Aug 25, he also increased the compensation package being offered to those whose homes could not be spared. According to Mr Hun Sen, affected villagers should receive $500 and a 6- by 12-meter plot of land in nearby Prek Leap commune.

However, villagers yesterday said they had yet to receive either.

“Now I rent other people’s house to live in with my wife and child. We want to get the land,” said Soung Sothan, 32.

(Additional reporting by Ian Williamson)

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