Villagers Ordered to Leave Koh Pich Island

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuk­­tema ordered 41 families on Wednesday to “immediately re­move” themselves from Koh Pich, an island across from Naga­Corp ca­sino, by the end of the month or face legal action.

Villagers on the island have been embroiled in a fight over the  land since City Hall issued an eviction order Dec 6, saying they must leave their homes within 30 days.

The Housing Rights Task Force, which is helping the villagers fight eviction, said the residents have a legal right to the land.

“There are only 41 families who have denied to remove [themselves] from Koh Pich,” Kep Chuk­tema said at a ceremony to promote officials on Wednes­day.

“I would like to inform those villagers that if they believe [in] incitement, they will face danger themselves,” the governor said.

Kep Chuktema said he had “no choice” but to remove the villa­gers be­cause “we really need this island to develop into a subordinate city.”

“I want those villagers to understand our objective to develop the island. If they reject, we will use the legal way,” he said.

The housing task force asked City Hall for a 30-day extension of the eviction deadline in late De­cem­ber. Although it never re­ceived a response, the deadline passed quietly. The task force is concerned, however, about City Hall’s latest move and the possibility of a forced eviction.

“We are very concerned about this most recent action,” said Eang Sopheak, staff attorney at the US-backed Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project, which is part of the Housing Rights Task Force.

“[We have] made every effort to calmly work with the City to re­solve the matter. We remain committed to this approach and are contacting the governor for an urgent clarification about this order,” he said in a statement.

Koh Pich villager Chhuon Than, 37, said the municipality should not use intimidation to force them off the island.

“I have been living on Koh Pich since 1987,” he said. “I am so disappointed that the municipality always uses intimidating words to our powerless people in order to grab our land where we have been living for years.”

Another villager Long Vann, 49, said he would consider selling his land if City Hall offers $15 per square meter rather than its current offer of $1 to $2 per square meter.


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