sihanoukville – Nou Sony says he has a choice: accept the offer for his land from the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port or have his home continually flood because of the mountains of dirt the port has dumped around his home.
“I don’t want to live like this,” he said this week.
Some of the 30 families in Mittapheap district’s commune 3 claim that port authorities, who are trying to develop a special economic zone on the villagers’ low-lying land, have bulldozed mounds of earth around their homes in a bid to force them out.
Villagers say hundreds of people in the 70-hectare spot, known as Thmei village, left because of the flooding. And with the rainy season not far off, Nou Sony said he believes more puddles will form, bringing more mosquitoes and the threat of dengue fever and malaria.
But he said the $6,000 offer from the port for his 3-meter-by-5-meter plot of land is too little; he wants $9,000 or $10,000.
“If they offer me too little money, I won’t leave.” he said. “I would rather live with the floods.”
Villager Em Nan said staying isn’t easy, as the floods sometimes reach her belly button and swallow the lower level of the home she lives in with her daughter’s family.
At that level, the water reaches above her 3-year-old grandson’s head. “We will have to be more careful with the children in the rainy season,” she said.
“It’s very deep, but I have no other place. The land in town is too expensive,” he said.
She said the port has offered $6,000 for her land. But, she said, it would cost about $15,000 to find a place elsewhere.
Some people who accepted the port’s money have simply moved to other land without permission of the owners, Em Nan said, adding that she was not willing to do that.
Lou Kim Chhun, director-general of the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, denied that any flooding has happened because of the filling-in, which began about two years ago, but said that a small canal will be built to prevent flooding in the future.
The villagers who have already departed the area have done so voluntarily, he said.
“I just filled in my land,” said Lou Kim Chhun, who would not discuss specific offers to villagers.
“They can stay, and if they want to leave, they can ask for a reasonable price [for their land],” he said. “If it’s too much, they can just stay.”
In April 2000, a government sub-decree turned over the villagers’ land to the port, but Lou Kim Chhun said the port is honoring a 2002 speech by Hun Sen that said the villagers could stay.
“We followed [the prime minister’s] steps. We didn’t use force,” he said.
Eventually, however, a special economic zone will be built in the commune, which should create between 20,000 and 30,000 jobs, Lou Kim Chhun said.
Infrastructure for the SEZ will be finished by 2010, he added.