Stop Evictions, Boeng Kak Residents Plead

Clutching copies of the first official map marking the area around Boeng Kak lake slated for eviction, more than 100 of the affected residents gathered outside Prime Min­ister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh mansion yesterday, pleading to keep their homes.

Issued by the Council of Mini­sters on March 2, the map arrived months after the government be­gan evicting residents around the lake, and more than a year after the private company Shu­kaku, which is headed by a senator from the ruling CPP, began filling the lake in with sand to make way for an up-market development project.

Phnom Penh municipality re­ported last month that Shukaku had approached the halfway mark in filling the lake.

A 2007 lease agreement be­tween the city and Shukaku states that more than 4,000 families living around the lake would have to vacate a total of 133 hectares, which is the firm’s designated area. The precise boundaries of Shukaku’s building zone, however, remained a mystery.

Residents and business owners who have properties jutting over the lake or along its banks were obvious candidates for eviction. But hundreds of families further back from the water’s edge held out hope that they would be spared dislocation—until last week.

“It is the first time we have seen it,” Housing Rights Task Force Director Sia Phearum said of the map.

In a document dated March 2, the Council of Ministers directed Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema to “be informed and manage the implementation” of the new boundaries.

According to the document, Shukaku’s boundary now runs two meters back from the railroad tracks that bend around to the west and south of Boeng Kak lake, 40 meters back from Street 273 to the lake’s north, and on the east along the fence that runs behind the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, Ministry of Information, Calmette Hospital and French Embassy.

By omitting the mosque and the road behind the Phnom Penh Hotel on Monivong Boulevard, the new borders actually reduce the affected area by just a fraction to a total of 129.41 hectares.

But that is little consolation to the residents now facing eviction.

Like the other protesters who gathered in front of Mr Hun Sen’s residence yesterday, Vanna, 50, declined to give her full name for fear of retribution later.

“The documents and the map we received over the weekend prove that our residential houses are all affected and that we will lose our hopes,” she said. “This is why we are here, to seek help from the premier and his wife, who are always on the TV screen helping poor people.”

“I love seeing Cambodia, especially Phnom Penh, develop into a green city,” said Leakhena, 49, who lives behind the French Embassy in Village 22. “But development must consider the interests of the villagers and not cause people to become homeless or fall into poverty.”

After yesterday morning’s protest at the premier’s home, Srah Chak commune chief Chhay Thirith, whose jurisdiction surrounds the lake, suggested the residents set their sights a little lower.

“Authorities at all levels are trying to resolve the matter with affected families with transparency,” Mr Thirith said.

“I think that villagers should not bother the senior leader because Samdech [Hun Sen] has a lot of work to do,” he said.

Officials at the municipality, including Mr Chuktema, and Council of Ministers Secretary of State Seng Lim Neou, the author of the March 2 letter, were unavailable yesterday for comment.

In their progressive evictions around the lake, Shukaku and the city have been offering evictees three options: a once-off $8,500 cash payment, $500 and a small apartment in Dangkao district, or promised on-site housing once the lake area has been fully developed.

Government officials say more than 1,200 families have already accepted compensation. But residents and rights workers say they’ve often done so under duress and that none of the options adequately compensate them for what they have lost.

Ms Leakhena, who said she dreaded the thought of moving out to far-flung Dangkao, said her husband’s salary as a municipal police officer barely covers the family’s gasoline expenses even now.

“If I am evicted to the outskirts of the city, how can I make a living in an area located too far from school for my children and where nobody will buy things from my grocery shop?”

This is a common concern, said Mr Phearum of the Housing Rights Task Force.

“They can’t live in the relocation site because it’s far from their income generation…so they [accept the cash and] decide to find some place cheap closer to their jobs,” he said.

Residents still living around the lake say the government has yet to tell them if they will be offered even the aforementioned compensation offers.

“It is really unlucky for the people because there is no consultation with the victims,” Mr Phearum said.

“They’re acting in this way without any consultation with the people who will be affected by the project,” he said.

The protesters said they met with Noeu Pao, who identified himself as a member of the premier’s cabinet but decided not to hand him their petition for fear that Mr Pao would not pass it on to Mr Hun Sen.

“I don’t know why they didn’t give me their complaint,” Mr Pao said by telephone after the event. “So I don’t know what they want.”

 

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