Chhorn Chansy, The Cambodia Daily, Aug. 31 2011
BANGING tables and demanding answers, 47 families that have been cut out of the Boeung Kak compensation deal protested at Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune office yesterday.
The families from villages 6, 22 and 24 have been denied land titles they were promised within a 12.44 hectare relocation site that was set aside by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this month for 756 families forced to make way for a real estate development.
Waving an invitation to apply for a land title stamped by Srah Chak commune chief Chhay Thirith, Chea Sok Choeun from village 22 yesterday demanded he explain why she had been cut out of the deal.
“Where is the transparency and justice if we have the same invitations but some got [titles] and some were rejected,” she said.
Chhay Thirith said that such decisions were beyond his authority.
Srah Chak deputy commune chief In Saphorn said she supported the families’ claims but was powerless to act.
The dispute at Boeung Kak has raged since Shukaku Inc, a company owned by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin, was given the right to develop a 133 hectare real estate project that would displace some 4,000 families in 2007.
“There are some bad officials who want to swindle us and swallow the people’s land.” City officials have rejected the applications of 54 families to be resettled on a land development site at Boeung Kak lake. Phnom Penh authorities are in the process of assessing land titles for hundreds of families, who have been promised resettlement on 12 hectares of the 133-hectare site. Nearly 800 families sought to be resettled, following years of protests by residents who refused buy-out or off-site resettlement offers, officials said.
Among those who will not get land is Heng Mom, 41, who said her house does not fall within the designated land area offered by the city. “Now it seems we’ve lost everything and we are in shock,” she told VOA Khmer. “This is a violation of not only my rights, but for the other people who will not get justice.” The resettlement plan came at the order of Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this month, following threats from the World Bank that it would freeze funding to Cambodia if the dispute between villagers and the city-backed development company was not resolved.
Heng Mom said her rejection was against the spirit of that order. “There are some bad officials who want to swindle us and swallow the people’s land,” she said. Tep Vanny, a representative of lake residents, said that so far 54 families have been denied plots of land. The community has seven villages and 794 families. She said the villagers will struggle to make sure that all families have homes as part of the deal. In Saphorn, deputy chief of Srah Chak commune, said that the authorities are working on solutions for the families who are not being provided a land title. The World Bank said in a statement it continued to encourage negotiation over the land.
Another 42 families facing eviction at Boeung Kak have been cut out of a hard-fought compensation deal. The move fuelled protests yesterday at the former lake, as about 200 protestors burnt tyres and accused municipal authorities of betraying them. Dismayed residents from villages six, 22 and 24 in Phnom Penh’s Srah Chak commune said they had been cheated by Daun Penh district officials out of promised on-site relocation within a 12.44-hectare area granted to 756 families by Prime Minister Hun Sen on August 11. “Those officials said that they will not issue land titles for our 42 families located on the edge of Boeung Kak lake,” villager Kim Vanny said, adding she was told residents whose homes lay very close to the water were not entitled to new land.
Excluded resident Chea Sokchern showed the Post a copy of a letter inviting her to apply for a land title, which she has now been told she would not receive. Last Wednesday, families from village one were also excluded from the deal after municipal authorities said their land lay close to a train line and fell under the responsibility of transport authorities or the railway operator. The relocation offer was hoped to bring to a close a battle for fair compensation that has raged since 2007 for at least some of the estimated 4,000 villagers set to be evicted to make way for a real estate development backed by ruling-party senator Lao Meng Khin’s Shukaku Inc.
Some villagers said that even before the deal was publicly announced foul play was at hand, with Shukaku representatives purchasing plots of land just days before the on-site compensation was announced. Chhay Rithysen, director of the municipal department of urbanisation and construction, said on Monday that the relocation site would be located behind the Ministry of Information, west of Calmette hospital, and near the French embassy. Daun Penh district deputy governor Sok Penhvuth, who visited Boeung Kak yesterday, declined to comment.
The Prime Minister’s decision to grant the land to lakeside residents came just days after the World Bank announced it had suspended any new funding to projects in Cambodia until an acceptable resolution to the dispute was brokered. Cambodian finance minister Keat Chhon reportedly postponed a forum to garner international donor support indefinitely in a letter to the bank on August 17.
City officials said yesterday that an offer of land to people living near Boeung Kak lake would not force residents to relocate, following concerns about how the city would implement Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order. Villagers won 12.44 hectares of land for on-site housing at the lakeside in an August 11 sub-decree signed by the premier, but the directive did not specify where the land would be located or how it would be divided among residents. Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema announced last week that 756 residents would receive land titles. He also claimed, however, that people living in Village 1 fell outside the project’s area and would not be part of the deal offered by Hun Sen.
Tep Vanny, a representative for more than 750 families in the area, said that about 300 families, including her own, had been invited by district authorities to obtain land titles, but had not yet provided their fingerprints over uncertainty as to the details of the government’s offer. “We have much concern over this issue, and do not want to be faced with any evictions a second time,” she said. Mei Sina, a forty-nine-year-old resident of Village 24 in Daun Penh’s Srah Chak commune, told the Post yesterday that residents held reservations over how the city would carry out the sub-decree.
“We need the municipal authorities to confirm the real location of the 12.44 hectares of land that was given [to villagers] in the Boeung Kak area … as well as the provision of land for each family before they issue the land titles for us,” she said. “We are scared of being evicted in the future.” After the concerns were raised, Chhay Rithysen, director of the municipal department of urbanisation and construction, told the Post that the 12.44 hectares would be located in existing villages. “According to the announcement of the Municipal Hall on implementing the sub-decree … [it] has set the location of this land in Villages 6, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24,” he said.
Lao Vann, deputy director-general of Shukaku Inc, the private company backing the multi-million dollar development at the lake, declined to comment yesterday. Shukaku, which is headed by ruling party Senator Lao Meng Khin, was awarded a 99-year lease of 133 hectares to develop the area in 2007, and later joined with Chinese firm Erdos Hong Jun Investment Company. The World Bank announced earlier this month that it halted funding to Cambodia over widespread displacement from the project, and called on the government to find a resolution for residents. Within days, Hun Sen signed the sub-decree offering 12.44 hectares “to the people”.