sihanoukville – Tensions have arisen between villagers and the director-general of the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port over the execution of plans to expand the port facility.
Tons of rubble have been dumped into the land adjacent to the port, amidst the homes of hundreds of villagers in Mittapheap district’s commune 3.
At the site of at least a dozen homes in Thmei village over the weekend, the rubble abutted walls and was piled up to the roofs of houses and beneath stilted homes. Villagers claim that eight water wells have already been filled in during the effort to force them to leave and expand the port.
In April 2000, a subdecree was issued turning Thmei village over to the port for expansion, but villagers say that Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a 2001 speech that they could continue living there.
Lou Kim Chhun, director-general of the port, said by telephone Tuesday that the land belongs to the port, but because of Hun Sen’s announcement, villagers are not going to be evicted.
He said the port is hoping residents will volunteer to leave, but maintained that the mountains of earth next to their homes was not the port’s attempt to force them out.
“When the brothers and sisters volunteer to go, the port will buy each [property] little by little,” he said, adding that the land is needed to increase the storage capacity of the port.
Rubble has only been dumped around property purchased from villagers, Lou Kim Chhun said, adding that residents are not being offered a fixed rate for their homes.
Thmei residents, however, claimed Sunday that the rubble is being distributed in a manner geared at driving them from their homes.
“They fill in little by little until a dispute occurs and then they start to negotiate to buy,” claimed local bar owner So Kim, 37.
On Friday, So Kim and her cook, Khan Sivorn, 44, attempted to stop a truck from pouring earth onto her property, the two women said.
The truck dumped its load anyway and according to photographs taken by fellow villagers, the two women were left pinned against a brick wall with rubble up to their thighs.
Sao Sengtousna, a 27-year-old motorbike taxi driver, said that his house, where he has lived since 1985, had nearly fallen over in recent weeks due to the pressure from rubble.
Villager Moang Yan, 53, spent Sunday carefully taking apart the home he has lived in since 1982 so he can reconstruct it at a new site 2 to 3 km away.
He said that he had been promised $1,500 for his small plot of land but feels that it is worth double that.
“I have been forced to accept it. They already filled in my land and then they offer the money,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann.)