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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fate of squatters in the balance

Fate of squatters in the balance

A s the gun battle at Stung Meancheay was being fought city authorities were

about to decide the future of what they estimate to be 143,000 squatters.

Officials are to hold a seminar on Monday and Tuesday with leaders of

homeless communities.

The municipality wants to move the squatters to

sroks , (rural districts) surrounding the city and build them new

villages.

Director of Land Titles Chuun Sothy told the Post the

municipality hopes to fund the construction of the new villages with help from

the World Bank or Asian Development Bank, for which city officials are now

making applications.

However squatters are likely to object to

relocation to the squats, partly because houses in the sroks would be prone to

flooding as most of the land there is below water-level in the rainy season.

Robert Deutsch, a member of the Urban Sector Group which has been

researching squatting communities around the capital disagrees with the

scheme.

He said, "Where possible we want them to stay where they are

because most of them have a particular reason for living where they do - either

it's close to their place of work, or the market where they have their stalls,

or their children's school, or it's near other members of their family or close

friends."

He added, "If relocation is necessary we want it to be humane

and just."

But Sothy insists the squatters have to be moved.

He

said, "We cannot keep them where they are because they occupy public and private

land to which other people already hold the land titles."

Deutsch admits

there are certain areas where squatters cannot continue living because they are

blocking narrow roadways or drainage canals.

A kaleidoscope of victims

of Cambodia's tribulations make up Phnom Penh's thousands of

squatters.

Sothy says they include demilitarized soldiers, amputees, poor

families from the provinces, employed soldiers, cyclo-drivers, and underpaid

civil servants such as teachers.

They live not only in abandoned houses

and riverside shacks, but wooden and bamboo huts in canals, on narrow roadways

and on the terraced rooftops of high-rise apartment buildings.

According

to Municipality figures, two-thirds of the city's squatters live in Chamkarmon

district, where they are concentrated around the banks of the Bassac River.

A dense concentration of squatters also live on the banks of the Boeng

Kak lake in the north of the city, occupying what were once manicured public

gardens.

The red-light district of Tuol Kork is home to almost

ten-thousand squatters.

Most choose their particular squats because of

proximity to work or school or family, and not just because it's available or

inexpensive, according to earliest trends to emerge from a survey of 187 squats.

They also show that most squatting communities developed after

1989.

The survey is the first-ever attempt to build up a general profile

of Phnom Penh's homeless and is being conducted by municipality workers and the

Urban Sector Group.

It asked families their reasons for choosing their

particular squat, how long they'd been there, their problems in the squats and

about the state of their water and power supplies.

Co-ordinator of the

Urban Sector Group, Deborah Brodie, said, "We wanted to build up an overall

profile of squatting communities, so the survey is very impressionistic. Later

we may be able to conduct a more scientific, qualitative

survey."

Homeless leaders suggested they be given cash to set up schools

and small businesses in their communities when they had a meeting last week with

municipality officials and NGOs last week.

Squatters' suggestions and

government plans for the future of the city's squatters will be pooled at the

two-day meeting this week to form the basis of recommendations to be made to

co-prime ministers HRH Prince Norodom Ranariddh and HE Samdech Hun Sen on the

second day of the meeting.

The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights is

flying in two international urban development experts who've specialized in

resolving squatter issues in other south-east Asian cities to advise the meeting

on "humane" approaches to squatters.

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