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Broken promise spurs protest

Another chapter in the long-running land dispute between development firm Phanimex Company and the Borei Keila community unfolded yesterday as 70 residents once again called on the district governor and Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene on their behalf.

At the heart of the dispute is a broken promise that has left 384 families without a home. In 2003, Phanimex told villagers being displaced by their development site that they would build 10 apartment buildings to house them on two hectares in Borei Keila. Eight years later, residents are still waiting on the final two buildings.

“The residents protest to demand only the houses that the company promised to give us, but if the company does not give us homes, we will develop on the site. Don’t kick us out from this place,” said community resident Sor Sorn. “We are so scared that we will be moved to another place that is far from the capital.”

In June, a year-old letter surfaced in which Phanimex president Suy Sophan told the prime minister that construction of the 10 promised apartment buildings was proving more expensive than originally thought and requested permission to forego construction on the final two, asking instead that the land be granted to Phanimex.

The letter to the Prime Minister also suggested those facing displacement could be provided 20 hectares of land in Kandal province and another half-hectare in another unspecified area of Phnom Penh.
The suggestion was catergorically rejected by those affected and led to angry protests.

Suy Sophan could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Tong Kim Thong, an adviser to the company, argued that many of the protesters are not even original Borei Keila residents.

“We don’t have more houses for them anymore, because most of them are not the real Borei Keila community residents,” he said, adding that some of the protesters had received houses already, only to sell them and then demand houses again.

His remarks echoed those of Prampi Makara district governor Som Sovann, who in late August called the protesters “newcomers” who had no right to homes. Som Sovann declined to comment when contacted yesterday.

Em Sarim, a Phanimex Company security guard, yesterday said that the eight apartment buildings constructed thus far were sufficient.

“They are worried the company [will not] not give houses to them. We told them that … we built eight buildings because it enough for them,” he said, adding that the company will give them houses if they have documentation proving they are real Borei Keila residents.

Resident Sor Sorn said that, last month, company security guards came to destroy her house, leaving only after being stopped by other residents. Yesterday, she said that such strong-arm tactics will not cause her or the others to leave.

“We will not go back home unless the district officials respond to our suggestion,” Sor Sorn said. “We will sleep here waiting for the answer from the authorities.

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