Thousands to Be Evicted From Riverbank

Nearly 2,000 families living on the bank of the Sekong River in Stung Treng province’s Siem Pang district will be evicted beginning in January to make way for the construction of public gardens, officials said this week.

District governor Sy Suon said that roughly 1,000 families in Sekong commune and 800 families in Thma Keo commune living along 4 km of the riverbank will be forced to relocate so that gardens can be developed along the riverfront.

Loy Sophat, Stung Treng provincial governor, said the evicted families could purchase plots of land on the site of the disused Stung Treng airport, which he said would also be built upon. Officials said there was no longer a need for an airport in the northeastern province.

“We will move those people to stay on the airport land, and the removal will start at the beginning of next year,” Mr. Sophat said, adding that a new district hall, a market and private apartment blocks will be built on the airport land.

“I believe that many people will come to settle on this land as it develops, and this is our plan,” he said.

Villagers living along the riverbank, and who have lived there since 1979, said they were only informed of their impending evictions last month.

“Authorities told us to move from the riverbank…[but] I don’t know where I should go, because I don’t have much money,” said Luon Chanson, 43, who on Monday protested at the Sekong commune office with about 50 other villagers angered by the evictions.

Land for sale at the airport is in the region of $4,000 for a 20- by 40-meter plot, Ms. Chanson said.

Doung Pov, chief of the provincial planning department at the Ministry of Planning, said Siem Pang district officials had requested permission from the Interior Ministry to build on the airport in late 2011, and that the proposal was still pending.

Luke Bezett, operations manager at Helicopters Cambodia, which offers charter flights to several of Cambodia’s provincial airports, said Stung Treng’s asphalt runway was still in good shape. Although airplanes no longer use the strip, Stung Treng is a useful landing spot for helicopters when flying to Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces becomes impossible due to bad weather.

“I hope they’re not selling the land…because it’s quite a good location,” Mr. Bezett said.

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