Since 2004, authorities have carried out 28 mass evictions in Phnom Penh, affecting
more than 7,900 families. No. 29 came in early November when another 132 families
were made homeless in the village of Chong Chrouy, in Russey Keo District.
With neither the manpower nor the materials to reconstruct their houses, more than
100 of these families are now living without shelter or food at their "relocation
site" in Trorbiang Anchanh village, Dongkor District.
They said they lost all of their possessions when about 300 officials and "house-breakers"
led by district chief Khleang Hourt began tearing down their homes.
"I am now sleeping right on the grass because I have nothing left," said
Ter Maly, 47. Maly said she pleaded for time to pack but her house was bulldozed
before she could do it.
City Hall issued three warnings to the villagers to move out, but the community refused
to leave because they were not satisfied with the choices offered. They were asked
to choose between two million riel each (about $500) or a 4 by 10 meter plot of land.
Ny Chakrya, head of the local Adhoc rights group's monitoring section, said both
options were untenable.
"Two million riel are too little for them to buy land and rebuild their house
and a piece of land cannot be a shelter without money to build the house on,"
The new site where the villagers are to be moved is an undeveloped rice field without
shelter or access to water, electricity or sanitation.
The villagers said City Hall sent the village chief to negotiate with them but there
was nothing in writing.
He said a Korean company and Sokimex, a company with holdings in oil and hotels,
had been negotiating with the government and villagers for the land. He said they
wanted to build a hotel on the site.
Licadho's senior human rights monitor, Am Sam Ath said such deals usually "serve
private business interests."
Ath condemned City Hall actions, saying that if the families were living illegally
on the land, the government should have evicted them immediately, not after they
built a village and community. "It is not the proper way to evict people,"
Kep Chuktema, Phnom Penh city governor did not respond to a request for comment.
Deputy governor Mann Choeun declined to comment.
Kek Galabru, President of Licadho said evictions involving the use of armed officials
and force are a violation of human rights.
She said most of the villagers have no proper titles to their land but their land
rights have been recognized by their local authorities.
"They have been living there for more than five years," she said. "This
eviction is a violation of the 2001 land law."
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith questioned the resident's claims that they had
lived there since the 1980s.
He said he was not informed about this particular eviction, but that many of the
villagers own polluting fishing boats and had grabbed state land to build their "slums"
on the river bank.
He claimed the villagers were trying to cynically benefit from the eviction. "Not
all the poor people are honest and not all the rich people are bad," he said.
During the evictions, the authorities banned reporters and human right groups and
UN agencies from the site.
Licadho is concerned about the children's schooling.
"It creates a lot of complication in terms of study because they are in the
middle of their semesters," said Ath.
Seng Srey Nok, 44, worried about her three children.
"I hope my children will be able to go to school after all this is settled.
They need to study to have a bright future," she said.
According to an Amnesty International report released in September, 19 more evictions
are threatened affecting about 7,000 families in Phnom Penh and five evictions are
pending outside the city involving 660 families. Another 35 planned evictions will
affect more than 13,325 families, including many indigenous families in northeast