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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bassac village stays on the boil

Bassac village stays on the boil

Tracey Shelton

A boy stands by the ruins of a burning building in Tonle Bassac Commune's Village 14, "Sambok Chab," after a riot broke out on Wednesday.

Flanked by dozens of heavily armed police and military police, Chamkarmon District

Governor Lo Yoy on June 1 told squatters at Tonle Bassac commune's Village 14 - Sambok

Chab - who have defied orders to leave land owned by Suor Srun Enterprises (SSE)

that they must vacate the area or be forcibly removed.

The directive comes just a day after hundreds of villagers rioted to protest the

actions of a security guard who began tearing down villagers' huts and attacking

those who sought to protect their homes. A pregnant woman and an 11-year-old girl

were injured, observers said.

Villagers, outraged by the attack, took up sticks, stones and knives, and chased

the security guard. The enraged mob then burned the Village 14 office and destroyed

three houses nearby. A tall steel fence, which had been erected at the front gate

by SSE was destroyed. Police and military police on duty in the area did not intervene.

Mao Voeun, 37, who claimed she was beaten by a security guard, said she was hit twice

but not seriously injured. She said the guard attacked her while she was rebuilding

her home, which was torn down several weeks ago.

"We would like to appeal to the King Father and Queen Mother because we face

grave difficulties at the moment," Voeun said. "We are living in fear as

a result of constant threats from the authorities."

Nhean Sarin, a doctor for local human rights group Licadho present during the rioting,

said one young girl suffered a serious neck injury as the huts were pulled down.

He said he immediately sent her to the Kantha Bopha hospital, and later sent the

pregnant woman who was beaten.

"I inspected the young girl and suspect she has a badly broken bone in her neck.

The injury to the pregnant woman was not serious," Saran said. "I will

follow up the case, I hope she will get better."

The villagers had posted pictures of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany

on their rebuilt huts. The villagers scrawled slogans across available surfaces.

"Only Samdech Hun Sen can help our people from difficulties," read the

graffiti. "Where there are poor people, Samdech Hun Sen is always there."

SSE had prepared more than 1,700 plots of land at Trapang Krasang commune in Dangkor

district some 25 km west of Phnom Penh, to give to 1,216 families from the Tonle

Bassac slum. Each family received a 5 by 12-meter plot.

According to local officials, only 48 families in the slum are continuing to resist

removal, and roughly 300 families of home renters remain at the site. But villagers

claim that hundreds of outsiders have flooded the area hoping to fraudulently claim

compensation. This has created a complicated situation, authorities said.

Recent weather has decimated the makeshift Village 14 - nicknamed Sambok Chab or

"Bird's Nest." Tents cannot keep the monsoon rains off the villagers, and

young children are falling ill with colds and diarrhea from playing in unsanitary

water, said Sarin. More than 250 of the villagers have received medicine from Licadho.

Am Sam Ath, a monitor at Licadho, said the long wait for authorities to resolve the

situation has forced difficult circumstances upon the people.

"Security guards are destroying these people's homes and hurting them in the

process," Sam Ath said. "The authorities should solve the problem with

the people urgently."

Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker, has written to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema

requesting a halt to both the eviction process and the use of force.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 21 NGOs, and the Housing

Rights Task Force have issued a joint statement expressing concern over the ongoing

human rights abuses against the residents in Sambok Chab.

"We would like to stress the precipitating conditions and action which led to

the violence," the statement read, "For nearly one month the house renters

have been living in squalid conditions, forced by authorities into close quarters

with minimal shelter and no water supply, electricity or bathroom facilities."

The UN human rights office issued a statement on May 30, also concerned about the

ongoing process of evictions at the Tonle Bassac slum.

"Due to the process, several hundred families have already been rendered homeless

and are now living in open air, they are facing serious health risks," said

Hina Jilani, special representative on human rights defenders.

"There is concern that the authorities may resort to force to evict these families.

Moreover, the allegations of intimidation, threats and corruption have marred the

process of registration and resettlement of the people affected by the eviction."

Tracey Shelton

Rioters torch the home and belongings of the deputy village chief in Tonle Bassac's village 14 on May 31. Hundreds of villagers armed with knives, stones and clubs chased a security guard and then destroyed three homes and a metal fence constructed by Suor Srun Enterprises.

Khui Chhor, assistant to SSE owner Suor Pheng, said the firm urged City Hall to solve

the problem with the villagers as soon as possible. He confirmed that if trouble

persists the would use force to evict them.

"We have stopped negotiating with them," Chhor said, "We do not have

any more patience. I think if City Hall is willing to evict them, it won't take long."

Chhor said those who provoked the villagers to destroy his company's property have

been identified and the authorities are tracking them down for punishment.

Phnom Penh municipality deputy governor Pa Socheatevong said the present situation

at Tonle Bassac is anarchy. He said people from both outside and inside the slum

have grabbed private land and spread to the nearby public park, which will cause

trouble for the city's development.

"This is an example where you can see who is taking the land from whom,"

Socheatevong told the Post on June 1. "The people have gone beyond the limits

of their rights."

Socheatevong said authorities are struggling to solve the problem of removal and

to provide appropriate places for living. He said the people making trouble are the

same ones accusing the authorities of treating them badly. He also blamed some politicians

and NGOs for interfering with the issue.

"Using force to evict them is the last resort," he said. "We will

try to negotiate until we come to end of the road."

Socheatevong said the security guards whose actions led to the May 31 riot had been

carrying out orders to prevent people from rebuilding their huts and grabbing other

plots of land.

"Actually, City Hall acted very softly," he said. "We do not want

to make people suffer."



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