Shukaku snaps up titles in relocation site

Khouth Sophak Chakrya, Phnom Penh Post, Sep. 13 2011

 More than 20 plots of land within a relocation site at the Boeung Kak area awarded as compensation to villagers set to be evicted have been granted to the same company that is displacing them, owned by ruling party Senator Lao Meng Khin. Authorities at the Srah Chak commune office revealed yesterday that the Senator’s Shukaku Inc had been granted land titles for 21 plots in a 12.44 hectare area awarded for the on-site relocation of 794 families in a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on August 11.

But no land titles were issued yesterday to villagers affected by Shukaku’s 114.41 hectare development project, stirring outrage amongst some 70 families who protested over the decision of authorities to cut them out of the on-site relocation deal. Heng Mom, 54, from village 22 of Daun Penh’s Srak Chork commune, said the hypocrisy of awarding land titles to Shukaku within the on-site relocation area while excluding villagers was intolerable and corrupt.

“Twenty-one papers for land titles only located in village 22 were issued to the Shukaku company owned by Lao Meng Khin and [his wife] Ching Sopheap, while 70 affected families including my own were brushed aside out of the land titling project,” she said. The land titling process, which was overseen by the Urbanisation Committee and Daun Penh district authorities was “embedded with corruption”, exploiting affected residents, she added.

Villagers living on the 21 plots have previously said Shukaku effectively forced them to sell their land for US$8,490, an amount Phnom Penh City Hall ruled as one form of acceptable compensation before the on-site relocation offer was announced. Shukaku, they alleged, threatening them that if they did not take the money they would be evicted with nothing and then gave them contracts for sale of the land, not compensation. Representatives of Shukaku could not be reached for comment yesterday but Srah Chak deputy commune chief In Saphon said she regretted decisions to cut 70 families out of the on-site relocation area.

“In fact, we, the subordinates of local authorities, wanted to issue land titles for each family but it is not our responsibility,” she said, adding the final say lay with the municipality. She declined to explain why some 100 families had been cut out of the 12.44 hectare relocation area since the deal was made public on August 18, following a World Bank decision to suspend all funding for new projects in Cambodia until the dispute was adequately solved. Boeung Kak representative Tep Vanny said the process of granting land titles had lacked transparency ever since the relocation deal was made public last month.

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