More than four years after the violent forced eviction of about 800 families from Dey Krahorm in the capital’s high-rent Tonle Bassac commune, small-scale construction is finally beginning on the site.
In the past month, the skeletons of a future barbecue restaurant and a beer garden have risen up on the eastern side of Dey Krahorm, while on the site’s south side, on a plot sold to another company, foundations are being laid for a Sou Sou Suki Soup restaurant.
But this is not much to show given the time that has passed since the heavily criticised eviction of the 3.7-hectare site’s residents in January 2009 to make way for real estate company 7NG, which once promised large-scale development of the site, activists said.
Srey Sothea, 7NG’s chairman, said in 2009 that the company had plans to build a “modern commercial centre including hotels and supermarkets” at Dey Krahorm.
However, as the evicted families to this day struggle to eke out meagre livelihoods, the majority of the land that 7NG promised to develop remains vacant, and the owner of the site of the future soup restaurant said he was still looking to rent the remaining portion of his plot.
“The Suki Soup restaurant just rented a part of the land from me,” said the plot’s owner, who declined to give his name or that of the company.
“There is still land available for rent.”
“We rent it for $4 per square metre per month,” he said, adding that he had bought the land from 7NG two or three years ago.
Workers, he said, had just begun laying foundations on the site, where concrete blocks and machinery can be seen.
An employee of the CKL Construction Company hired to build the restaurant said the building would be three storeys high and able to accommodate 1,000 people.
Sou Sou Suki Soup’s manager told the Post yesterday his company was “thinking about” building on the site, but said he did not know when the project would be finished.
Staff in 7NG’s office on the eviction site said yesterday they believed the land next to the office had been sold to other companies but could not say when, or for how much.
Meanwhile, on a plot on Dey Krahorm’s eastern side, a worker said she had been retained to cook food for about a dozen men building a restaurant called B+P BBQ, which was set to open next month.
She said the beer garden next door, labelled Ta Tep House, would also open soon.
Calls to the restaurants’ owners were unanswered.
The cook said she believed the barbecue’s owner was renting the land from 7NG for $3 a square metre per month.
“I’ve heard it’s $4,000 a square metre to buy,” she added. “I feel pity for the Dey Krahorm people, but in this society rich and powerful people always win against the poor.”
“A classic case of possession for speculation” is how David Pred, the managing associate of Inclusive Development International, explained the long wait for development.
“They uprooted and destroyed the lives of [hundreds of] families, and for what? For nothing. To sell off plots of land piecemeal to the highest bidder. It’s despicable.”
Sia Phearum, secretariat director for the Housing Rights Task Force, and Eang Vuthy, of the rights group Equitable Cambodia, agreed, saying this kind of development was not doing Cambodia’s economy any good either.
“The development has no transparency, no accountability. That’s why good investors are not interested in investing in Cambodia,” Phearum said.
“They say they’re going to use the land to build a commercial centre, or to bring tourists... but we see that’s not really happening, and we see investors are not really interested in investing in this property,” Vuthy said.
The widespread criticism of the Dey Krahorm eviction was most likely deterring investors, he said.
“Businessmen also care about their reputations. And the Dey Krahorm community protests every year to commemorate the evictions and highlight the case. Everyone knows about it.”
Such a lack of interest might explain why the site had been empty for more than four years, he said, adding that the monthly asking price of $3 to $4 a square metre seemed low.
The current small-scale developments were “just to avoid criticism” of speculation, Vuthy added.
Meanwhile, Phearum said, the evicted former Dey Krahorm residents were still suffering from the loss of their homes and livelihoods, and the majority had returned to the city from their Kandal province resettlement site, 40 kilometres away.
Lao Tip Seiha, deputy general director of the Construction Department at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, and the ministry’s deputy director general, Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, referred questions on the matter to local authorities.
Phnom Penh Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said he was unsure of the land’s status, adding that the city required the company to submit a master plan for the site’s development but 7NG had not submitted any such plan.
Dey Krahorm community member Chan Vichet said yesterday he was not surprised the land where he used to live had been divided and rented to small businesses, despite 7NG’s claims before the eviction that it would build a 52-storey, income- and investment-generating commercial building.
“I don’t know who 7NG sold it to, but I’d like to tell them it’s still disputed land,” Vichet said.
“It’s a land of tears, a land of people’s pain.”