PHNOM Penh Governor Kep Chuktema has issued an eviction notice to residents of the Group 78 community in Tonle Bassac commune, giving them 15 days to accept government compensation and withdraw voluntarily from the site.
The "notification" letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Post, claims the 66 remaining Group 78 families are living illegally on state land and land owned by local firm Sour Srun Enterprises, and that they risk forced removal if they remain beyond the deadline.
"City Hall is pleased to inform all residents who are living on the Sour Srun Company's land and on the public road that all levels of government have repeatedly requested [they] accept the compensation being offered by City Hall for their relocation," said the governor's letter, dated Monday.
"Once again, and for the last time, City Hall requests that the remaining residents of these 66 houses accept [our] offer within 15 days."
If the residents remain beyond the May 5 deadline, the governor warned the municipality will take "administrative measures" and disavows responsibility for "any damage to the residents' property or any property lost".
Fears of force
Group 78 representative Lim Sambo said he was served with the notification Thursday afternoon, and that the community would speak with their legal counsel Friday to discuss the situation. But he said the eviction notice was a concern for the remaining families, raising fears of a forced removal from their homes.
"We are living in fear at the moment because the authorities always come and intimidate villagers by threatening to bulldoze our land and so on. They never respect the law and always use force illegally," he said.
Villager Sieu Sopheak said, likewise, that he was unsurprised by the eviction notice. "This is not the first time that City Hall has issued [such a notice]. This is another way of intimidating the people," he said.
Despite the notification, he said the village would continue to fight City Hall for long-standing demands that residents are paid market value for land they claim has been occupied for nearly 20 years.
A legal tangle
Sourng Sophea, a lawyer with the Community Legal Education Centre, which is representing the villagers, said it would be filing an injunction with the court and with the Ministry of Land Management's cadastral committee - which reviews land disputes - arguing that City Hall had exceeded its jurisdiction.
While the municipality claims the people are occupying land belonging to Sour Srun, he said the decision on whether to evict the villagers was up to the courts, not City Hall.
"[The municipality] has no jurisdiction to evict the people," he added.
But when contacted Thursday, Khui Chhor, assistant to Suor Srun Enterprises owner Suor Pheng, said the company no longer owned land in Group 78 and that it has given its share to City Hall for the further expansion of the road leading to its planned bridge across the Tonle Bassac. "There is not any involvement with our company any more," he said.
But Sourng Sophea said that even if all of Group 78 now stands on state land, the claims of the residents far precede those of the Phnom Penh authorities.
"City Hall claimed the land in 2006 [to build a road]," he said. "But the people have lived on their land since 1981."