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Eviction pain lingers in Phnom Penh

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Traffic passes by the site of the former Group 78 community in Phnom Penh yesterday. The site remains undeveloped. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Three years after authorities demolished the last houses in Phnom Penh’s Group 78 community, evictees relocated to the outskirts of the capital are still struggling, the Housing Rights Task Force said yesterday.

More than 200 members of the Group 78 community gathered close to the site yesterday, near the Australian Embassy in Chamkarmon district’s Tonle Bassac commune, to commemorate the third anniversary of their eviction.

At dawn on July 17, 2009, police in riot gear cleared the way for workers to demolish the final 46 homes after their occupants refused compensation to vacate.

In the demolition’s aftermath, residents accused the authorities of intimidation and said the presence of armed police had prevented last-minute negotiations.

Those who accepted compensation were sent about 25 kilometres away to Traipang Anchanh on the capital’s outskirts, where they have since found it difficult financially, according to HRTF Secretariat-General Sia Phearum.

“If you’re to compare their [living conditions] to more than three years ago, they were better then,” he said.

Many families who had relied on income from driving motorbikes or operating inner-city market stalls had fallen further into poverty by a lack of employment and business opportunities at the relocation site, Phearum said.

“Some of them have returned to Phnom Penh to rent,” he said, adding it gave them more chance of retaining steady employment. “They’re disappointed.”

The government claimed that residents had lived on land that was owned by the state or local developer Sour Srun Enterprises.

Hasty development of the prime real estate was expected, but the land remains undeveloped and has become overgrown. Some families even claim the Phnom Penh municipal authority has yet to compensate them.

“They promised to pay compensation to us, but until now, we have received nothing,” said Siv Sopheak, 51, whose house was demolished.

Kiet Chhe, administration director of the Phnom Penh municipal authority, declined to comment yesterday.

To contact the reporters on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at sophakchakrya.khouth@phnompenhpost.com
Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com

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