More than 100 villagers from Chroy Changvar yesterday protested a draft sub-decree that would make Phnom Penh Municipality the legal owner of 280 hectares of land that are part of the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation’s $3 billion satellite city development.
The protesters submitted petitions to the National Assembly, the Senate and the Ministry of Interior, asking each institution to prevent the passage of the sub-decree currently being drafted by the city. The protesters expressed worry that this is an attempt to go around them and grab the land.
“Oh my god! That land is the residents’ property,” said Chea Sophat, a villager from Chroy Changvar. “Each villager is the owner of their land. We are seeking intervention from the highest institutions.”
Governor Pa Socheatvong on March 2 posted on his Facebook account that the Municipal Hall had organised a meeting to discuss the sub-decree and said that its goal was to “make development easier”.
“We cannot leave the area in anarchy,” Socheatvong wrote, adding that while he did not want to displace citizens, municipal authorities had been unable to find a solution to the land dispute between holdouts, squatters and the company.
Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said yesterday that if the sub-decree passed, Phnom Penh would give the 280 hectares to OCIC. The total development area is 387 hectares.
“We really need to draft the sub-decree on Chroy Changvar to be the city’s property, because we need to develop the area,” he said. “But it does not mean that we will not give compensation. We must give compensation with the company.”
Dimanche did not know whether the sub-decree would take the form of eminent domain or rule that the affected people have never had legal rights to the disputed properties. He also did not say how many people will be affected, claiming that many details of the draft law are not yet finalised.
Pol Amret, a protesting villager, said that by creating the sub-decree, the city was saying that it could do anything it wants, with no concern for anyone.
“We do not accept what City Hall is doing,” he said.
A project manager at OCIC’s parent company, Canadia Bank, declined to comment about the draft sub-decree or the protest, saying he did not have information about either as of yesterday.
The development project was approved in 2001 by a decree from the prime minister. OCIC came on board as a developer 10 years later and claims to have settled two-thirds of compensation claims. In recent years though, some locals have decried the development as a land grab.
Additional reporting by Igor Kossov