Agroup of around 50 youths, backed up by several dozen gendarmes, destroyed 200 shacks
at the municipal garbage dump on August 7. The move by the authorities followed two
letters to the site dwellers, who were warned to tear down their homes and leave
as they were living illegally on government land.
A boy in front of homes being destroyed at Stung Meanchey rubbish dump.
Residents of the Stung Meanchey dump expressed anger at their treatment. In Sin,
a 45-year-old woman living on the waste land with her ill husband and three children,
said she had moved there from a lack of choice.
"I didn't have enough money to rent a room for my family," she said, crying.
"No one would bear such a smell and such disgusting insects if they had money.
I don't have anywhere else to go after this."
The residents, who came from Kandal, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Kampot, make a living
by scavenging on the dump, earning between 1,000 riel ($0.25) and 5,000 riel ($1.25)
Some asked why the government had waited until after the election to tear down their
"They just wanted our votes," said an angry Keo Sothea, 48. "Before
the election they came and told us to vote for them, and promised that if they won,
they would solve the problem. But now they hold power, they push us out. It's not
fair at all."
Municipal officials and a representative of an NGO operating in the area said more
than half the shelters were unoccupied at the time.
Seng Ny, a social worker at Pour un Sourire d'Enfant, an NGO, said some people had
built shacks simply to rent them to other poor families for between ten and thirty
dollars a month. Others were hoping the government would find land for them.
"We have told them again and again not to come and live here since it destroys
their health. But they just expect the government will soon find them a suitable
place to live," she said.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chutema said a large number of people headed to the dump
after the municipality found plots of land in June for 106 families dwelling there.
"We are not doing that any more," he said. "It just encourages more
people to come in, and we have no more land to give them."
Chutema added that the new plan for the dump, which is to be moved further away from
the city, meant no new people were allowed to move there.
District official Lim Ben said the authorities had issued two letters to the residents
on July 10 and July 21 insisting that they move. Otherwise, they were warned, the
authorities would force them to leave and would take no responsibility for their
"We have waited long enough. Before July 12 there were only 38 shelters, but
now there are 217," he said. "If we still ignore the problem, the number
will go up to 300 or more in ten days. We cannot let that happen."
PSE's Ny told the Post on August 13 that most of the residents had left the landfill
site. Her NGO has now rented accommodation for 19 families whose children are already
being helped by the organization, and is renting land for two others.