Squatters Ask for Assistance As City Begins Canal Project

Plans to clear squatter housing from the banks of a clogged drainage canal in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Salang commune have 1,200 families begging for help.

“I have lived here for eight years, and if the city wants to develop this area, we will not fight the authorities,” villager Kim Heang said, adding that his neigh­bors first need compensation to leave.

The families have sent petitions seeking help to Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara, Tuol Kok District Governor Khleang Hout, both houses of Parliament and various NGOs, they said.

Khleang Hout said he has promised the squatters he will help, though he did not say how.

“I told them I will not allow them to suffer,” he said.

Rumors began flying about two weeks ago, when officials hung a banner announcing the canal will be dredged and rebuilt.

The canal will be rebuilt as a flood control measure, and engineers are recommending land on either side of the canal be kept as parkland, to absorb overflow water during the rainy season, Chea Sophara said.

As part of the project, the city plans to improve roads and build a school, a health center and a market, he said. Work is expected to begin early next year and end in 2004.

Officials have not provided the project’s cost, but say they may relocate squatters to two nearby neighborhoods away from the canal.

The commune, in the Tuol Kok district, is bordered by Street 271, Monireth and Mao Tse Tung boulevards, and Street 182. Its marshy eastern area is drained by a canal that has grown clog­ged with silt and plants.

In recent years, hundreds of families have built wooden houses, walkways and other structures over the marshes. Trash deposited by the squatters has worsened the clogging of the canal.

(Additional reporting by Jody McPhillips)



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