Villagers To Appeal to Phnom Penh Governor to Halt Eviction

Some 134 families living on the island across the Bassac River from the NagaCorp Casino plan to appeal directly to the governor of Phnom Penh today over a Dec 6 mass eviction order, said Chaum Someuon, a representative for families on the north side of Koh Pich village.

The order requires the families to vacate their homes within a month. Issued by Lo Yu, the governor of Chamkar Mon district and Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chutema, it warns villagers that if they do not leave, the municipality “will take legal action and is not responsible for any damage done to the property.”

But villagers said they insist on staying.

“Even if the government de­stroys our houses, we have to stay here, because we don’t have any place to go,” Chaum Som­euon, 50, said Sunday. “Even if we could sell the land, we don’t want to.”

Ang Veng, 43, head of families on the south side of the island said they too would prefer staying in Koh Pich. But they are willing to sell their land to developers as a last resort.

The dispute started nearly two months ago when private companies expressed interest in buying the island in the middle of the Bassac River for future investment, according to Phall Sithon, a Tonle Bassac commune council officer.

The value of the land has increased dramatically, from $1 to $2 per square meter in 1999 to at least $50 per square meter currently, Phall Sithon said.

“Why did the state not claim the land in the 1980s?” he asked. “Why claim it only when the value of the land is raised up?

“I think that powerful and rich people are seeing the land has business potential so that’s why they want to chase people out,” he added.

Government Subdecree No 53 issued in 1995 claims all lakes, ponds, rivers and islands as government property, Lo Yu said in a phone interview Friday.

“I don’t know whether the people are right or wrong, but I will follow what the subdecree says,” he said.

“I don’t know what the people need, because they never come to meet me,” he added.

Chaum Someuon counters that his villagers, some of whom have lived in Koh Pich since 1979, have certificates proving they have a legal right to stay there.

“We are really afraid, but we have proof we can occupy the land,” he said.

The villagers received permits from both the Meanchey district and the Chamkar Mon district, which gained control of the land in 1998, but the permits do not specify a time frame for how long the villagers can stay.

Canadia Bank, one of the private companies interested in the island, has no specific plan for development but is doing a feasibility study, Phoung Khinh Hoa, vice-president of Canadia Bank, said Friday.

Yang Nol, a father of seven, said his family has lived on the island since 1992.

“If they remove us from our village, where should we live?” he asked. “I have no cow, no rice field. My life is based on vegetable farming on the island. How do I survive with my seven kids?”

The villagers are calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni to protect them from City Hall’s plan to remove them from Koh Pich.


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