Human rights groups are questioning the legality of Phnom Penh Municipality’s agreement to lease 133 hectares of the Boeng Kak lake area to a little-known private firm.
Henry Hwang, legal advisor to the Community Legal Education Center, wrote in an e-mail that the deal appears to contravene the land law. According to the 2001 Land Law, lakes are considered state public property, Hwang wrote.
“The law says leasing of state public property cannot exceed 15 years,” he said.
More importantly, Hwang wrote, the deal involves land that is legally possessed by the families living around the lake.
“Some families have lived lawfully in their community since the 80s suggesting that they have legal rights to the land under the 2001 land law,” he added.
Article 30 of the land law states that any person who can prove that he or she has lived uncontested on a property for no less than five years has the right to request a “definitive title of ownership” if he was on that land before the law was adopted in August 2001.
On Feb 6, Phnom Penh Municipality signed a 99-year lease with private company Shukaku Inc to develop the lake area in Srah Chak commune, which encompasses Boeng Kak’s thriving backpacker district and residential communities.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema and Shukaku director Lao Meng Khin could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Kek Galabru, president and founder of local rights organization Licadho, questioned the lack of transparency in the deal and said the National Assembly should have been involved.
National Assembly President Heng Samrin declined to comment on whether the deal should be presented to the Assembly. Though unfamiliar with the Boeng Kak lease, Heng Samrin said that occupying land for over five years does not automatically mean ownership.
Nouv Saroeun, director of the municipality’s drainage and sewage department, said that he did not know whether the project would involve filling the lake, or whether it would affect the city’s drainage system if this was done. “We’ve not yet studied this because we didn’t know about the [Boeng Kak] development plan,” he said.