The government’s investment board appears to have approved a Chinese-linked firm’s $2.17 billion plan for Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake, moving forward a project that has forced thousands of poor families out of their homes.
As part of the process of removing residents to make way for the development, City Hall said Friday that later this month it would start measuring the existing plots occupied by families who have negotiated for new housing at the site of the development as compensation for their displacement.
This marked the first written approval of on-site housing for the families.
Among the new business projects approved in April, the Cambodian Investment Board endorsed a plan by Shukaku Erdos Hongjun Property Development to construct a commercial center, a five-star hotel, office space, a school, a hospital and public infrastructure, according to information released by the Council for the Development of Cambodia.
The list makes no mention of where all that brick and mortar will go. A CDC official declined to comment yesterday. But the list mirrors what few details have emerged of the firm’s secretive plans for the lake.
The firm was created in late 2010 by China’s Erdos Hong Jun Investment Co and CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin’s Shukaku Inc, which won a 99-year lease to the lake and its shores in 2007.
The plan follows a $3 billion investment deal Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Chinese firm’s president concluded in September for an aluminum factory, coal-fired power plant and real estate project. At the time, the premier’s staff offered no details about the real estate plan.
Human rights groups have deemed the project illegal because it ignore laws that they say should have given the 4,000 families who lived at the lake home a chance to claim titles to their land. But when Shukaku started filling the lake with sand in 2008, residents came under pressure to accept offers of $8,500 per family to move out—a fraction of what the groups say the land was worth.
In April, City Hall finally accepted a proposal from the 1,500 families who held out for new onsite housing instead. A letter from Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema signed Friday puts that deal in writing for the first time.
“City Hall has agreed to the request to establish a committee to measure the size of the villagers’ land and houses in the Boeng Kak area for onsite development,” it said. The committee will start its work the second week of this month, according to the letter.
Lakeside residents welcomed the news.
“I think that if they really implement this announcement it will be good and respond to the villagers’ needs,” said Tep Vanny, a representative for the families.
But Ms Vanny pointed out that the letter made no mention of what sort of onsite housing the families will get.
Two weeks ago, they rejected the city’s offer of apartments inside a six-story complex. The families are demanding individual houses so they can re-establish the small businesses that many run out of their current homes, and so they can build additions to their new homes later on.
Still, Housing Rights Task Force Secretary-General Sia Phearum called Friday’s letter a step forward.
“It is an official letter that will make the villagers confident for their next negotiation with City Hall so they can reach an agreement,” he said. “We hope there will be a good result that the villagers can accept. If not, I think the villagers will go on protesting.”
City officials could not be reached. A Shukaku Erdos official declined to comment.