Chum Sam Oeun wants to continue pushing for a better price than the $6.75 per square meter offered by Phnom Penh municipality for his land on Koh Pich.
But without the support of the Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project, Chum Sam Oeun says, the chances of getting the price he wants seem considerably dimmer.
Pilap officials “said they have so many cases and told us to hire a private lawyer,” the villager representative said Tuesday. “Villagers don’t have the money to hire a private lawyer.”
Since last year, Pilap, which is funded by US Agency for International Development, had been representing the villagers, as the municipality tried to shunt them out of their homes at prices that the villagers considered unfair.
But at a June 16 meeting, which Chum Sam Oeun said took place at Pilap’s office, Pilap told the villagers it was stepping back, adding that land disputes in other areas needed its attention, villagers said Tuesday.
“We were very surprised because they let go of our hands in the middle of this,” said villager Dul Sophal, 56.
Pilap warned that if they took the case to the courts, it could be lengthy and they might well lose. They advised the villagers to accept the $5.25 to $6.75 per square meter, the villagers claimed.
Explaining the withdrawal, Pilap also said that a US national working for the project had been advised by his embassy that his security is at risk, the villagers added.
“Some lawyers from Pilap are afraid…. So the villagers are also scared and sell their land,” said villager Dul Sophea, 39.
Cyril Chin, an attorney adviser to Pilap, declined comment on the villagers’ accounts Tuesday, adding that the case is not yet finished as agreement on land size and on the timing of payments has not been settled.
On Sunday, Chin said that given the lack of an established framework on fair and just compensation in Cambodia, the Koh Pich case “made significant progress.”
But some observers say the case bodes badly for the other land disputes in Cambodia.
Chea Vannath of the Center for Social Development on Tuesday welcomed the fact that the dispute has not been violent, but said the villagers have been shortchanged.
Koh Pich “is right in the city and has a lot of attention,” unlike the remote provinces where other land conflicts are taking place, which have much less public scrutiny, she said.
“It’s a very bad sign,” she added.