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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bassac holdouts fear bulldozers and burning

Bassac holdouts fear bulldozers and burning

Nearly one hundred families living in Tonle Bassac slum who have refused to move

to a new location provided by Suor Srun Enterprises (SSE) say the company and

authorities have threatened to bulldoze or burn their homes.

Many

villagers told the Post they have prepared stones, knives and axes to face SSE,

saying the company had never come to speak to them directly about the removal.

Instead, it conspired against them with the community's self-appointed

leaders.

"Every night we can't sleep well and we keep guard all night to

protect ourselves from fire," said Kim Ieng, 50. "Moving us to a new site is

like forcing us to die - we will lose everything."

But Pa Socheatevong,

deputy governor of Phnom Penh municipality, said neither the city nor the

company had any plans to destroy the Bassac houses.

He said around 1,000

families have agreed to move, but not until City Hall finishes building roads, a

health center and a school, and has connected water and electricity connected to

the residential sites.

"We do not care about the small number of people

who refuse to move," Socheatevong said. "The people who oppose, we will let them

oppose."

SSE bought a 15-hectare plot of land in Dangkor district about

17 km from Phnom Penh to resettle the squatters from the Bassac site. Each

household will receive a plot 5 meters wide and 12 meters long.

The

villagers have been in turmoil since March 22, when the SSE and City Hall

officials began a census of the squatter families.

More than 400 people

in the Village 14 slum, known as Sambok Chab, or the Bird's Nest, have refused

to move and have thumbprinted a letter which was sent to Sam Rainsy Party

parliamentarians in Phnom Penh and to the Community Legal Education Center,

asking for assistance. They said the letter will also be delivered to City Hall.

Many claim their existing houses are unfit to be moved to the new site,

so they would have only bare land to live on, with neither shelter nor

livelihood.

"I believe that 100 percent of the people who move will sell

the land and come back," said a 57-year-old Duong Chandara, who has been living

in the Bassac community for nine years.

Chin Sarith, deputy chief at

Village 14, said SSE had counted 1,216 families living in the slum. More than

1,000 had agreed to move, and only 74 families disagreed. They were demanding

that the company either redevelop the Bassac slum area, or provide them with

larger plots at the new site.

Khui Chhor, assistant to SSE owner Oknha

Suor Pheng, said most families had agreed to move and the company would leave it

to City Hall to solve the remaining disputes. Chhor said the company will take

the villagers who agreed to leave before Khmer New Year, and will take the

others later.

"The company was fair with the people," Chhor said. "Those

people have to understand that they live on company land and if they refuse to

move we will use the court because we need the land for development."

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