Villagers Fight Eviction Threat With Plan for Area

Residents of Phnom Penh’s Group 78 community on Tuesday publicly announced their $2.26-million plan to develop land that the municipality has been looking to evict them from for nearly a year.

Villager representative Khim Meng Keang said the development plan in Tonle Bassac commune will consist of three apartment buildings of five stories each for Group 78 residents to reside in. The total cost of constructing the apartments is estimated to be $2.26 million, he said.

The company that takes on the project will gain ownership of any of the prime real estate that is not taken up by the apartment buildings.

“We need partners from national and international companies,” Khim Meng Keang said at the launch ceremony at the offices of the NGO World Vision.

“I appeal to all levels of authority, national and international, to help support this initiative to reduce poverty,” he said.

Ith Mathoura, an attorney with the Community Legal Education Center, said the Group 78 villagers have continuously occupied the land since 1983, and therefore are eligible for land titles.

She added that the proposed relocation site for the villagers in the city’s Dangkao district is unsatisfactory as it doesn’t have running water, electricity, schools or health facilities.

“If the municipality wants to legally acquire the land to develop it, they must properly compensate the villagers,” she said.

Group 78 villagers put the value of their land at more than $4.8 million, assuming a cost of $550 per square meter.

CLEC attorney Nuon Sokchea said the proposed housing development plan would benefit not just villagers and investors but the municipal authority as well.

“The municipality will not have to evict people from their legally owned land, the villagers will beautify the city and City Hall doesn’t have to compensate the vil­lagers,” she said.

But the plan could prove a tough sell.

Ith Mathoura said that the developer that takes on the project would receive 2,219 square meters of land in return.

At $550 per square meter, the company would only acquire $1.2 million-worth of land—around $1 million less than they will have to spend building apartments for the villagers.

Ith Mathoura said that the company would ultimately make money on the deal as property values increase.

Municipal Governor Kep Chuk­­tema declined to comment. Con­tacted by telephone, Deputy Gov­ernor Pa Socheatvong said only, “They can do whatever they want. It is their business,” before hanging up.

Pa Socheatvong said last week that City Hall would not accept any proposal from Group 78 because the land already belongs to somebody else, who he de­clined to name.


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