When Doeur Phou’s wife, Chea Dara, called on Tuesday night to tell him she was about to jump off the Chruoy Changva bridge because authorities had condemned their family to homelessness, the 55-year-old at first thought she was kidding.
“But when I heard her telling me to look after the children well, and she told me she was on the bridge handrail, I was shocked and drove my motorbike to see her,” he said yesterday.
To his impassioned pleas, the 33-year-old mother, who was convinced her family's eviction from their home at Boeung Kak lake had just been sealed, told her husband, “Look after the kids” and was gone, he said.
“[I said] don’t think in the short term, a few days later, we will think again’,” he said. “She told me that later authorities would force us to move to another place, because they did not agree to give us land ownership – if we didn't have a house, how could we live?”
Loss to Shukaku
On Friday, Chea Dara learned her household was the latest to be cut from a 12.4-hectare onsite relocation area that Prime Minister Hun Sen set aside in August for more than 750 families yet to be evicted at Boeung Kak from land leased to a private company for a real estate development in 2007.
An estimated 4,000 families will have lost their homes by the time a project, headed by ruling party Senator Lao Meng Khin’s Shukaku Inc, finishes reclaiming the Boeung Kak lake and seals the boundaries of its new satellite city.
Chea Dara’s elder sister, Chea Thavy, said her younger sibling had protested for years against the development, demanding fair compensation and even spending a night detained at the Phnom Penh Municipal Police commissioner’s office for her trouble.
But while Chea Thavy said eventually she was granted a title for onsite relocation, her sister, who lived in the adjacent house, was not so lucky.
Both their houses are located in a cluster of residences near the French embassy off street 70 in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune.
A Right of Abode
Chhay Rithy Sen, the director of Phnom Penh’s department of urbanization, construction and Cadastral Survey, said residents at Boeung Kak with houses less than 39 metres from the middle of street 70 were not affected by the Shukaku project, and thus had not been offered resettlement.
Chea Dara’s house is just seven metres from street 70.
But both residents and rights groups yesterday said they did not believe authorities had any intention of allowing the residents of street 70 to remain.
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Taskforce, said his understanding was that authorities needed to expand the street and had already begun marking houses for demolition. “So far, the authorities sprayed the red paint and remarked that they will not get land titles because they are affected by the road expansion,” he said.
Resident Son Lorn, 49, who also lives adjacent to Chea Dara’s house, said he had been excluded from the resettlement program but received assurances he would not lose his house.
“But they banned us from making repairs and did not give us land titles,” he said.
Forty-seven families from villages 1, 6, 22 and 24 at Boeung Kak have also been cut out of the 12.44-hectare onsite relocation area since the agreement was announced in August.
In late September, police beat Boeung Kak resident and Sam Rainsy Party activist Suong Sophoan unconscious as excavators driven by Shukaku employees tore down several resident’s houses. Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant for the rights group Licadho, said the continual exclusion of families from the relocation area was “a huge injustice”. “It’s a huge concern and it’s twice as egregious when we hear that Lao Meng Khin has been issued land titles in the 12.44 hectares that were supposed to be put aside for the remaining families, while well over 10 per cent of them have been arbitrarily excluded,” he said.
In September, Srah Chak commune officials revealed that more than 21 plots in the relocation area had been granted to Shukaku.
Ek Tha, a spokesman for the council of ministers, said nobody should be drawing conclusions about Chea Dara’s death at this early stage.
“In general, the local police need a full investigation, and nobody can make any early conclusion if she commits suicide in this case or that case — we just do not know,” he said.
Chea Dara’s family tried but were unable to find her body.