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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Group 78 continues fight for Bassac land

Group 78 continues fight for Bassac land

Villagers say govt attempts to divide them have not dented their resolve to remain on the land.

RESIDENTS of Phnom Penh's besieged Group 78 community say they will continue to resist City Hall's efforts to shift them from their homes in Tonle Bassac commune, amid local fears of a forced eviction following a strained meeting with city authorities Friday.

Residents walked out of a meeting with Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun after being encouraged to sign documents acknowledging their "illegal" occupation of the 11,700-square-metre site.

The document, a copy of which has been obtained by the Post, would have forced residents to acknowledge that they are living illegally on state and company land and accept compensation of US$5,000 cash and replacement housing in Dangkor district.

"We are living legally, so we must resist until the end," resident Sieu Sopheak, 48, said Monday, adding that apprehension has set in since Friday's meeting. "They are trying every means to break our solidarity."

Increasing pressures

Since 2006, Group 78 has been embroiled in a land dispute with the municipality, which has plans to build a road in preparation for the construction of a planned bridge over the Tonle Bassac river, and with local Sour Srun Enterprises Co, which wants community land for a housing development.

Sun Vanthan, 29, who has been living in Group 78 since 1990, also expressed fears the community will soon face eviction from the site.

"I am afraid that they might evict us sometime in the future," she said. "I don't know who to ask for help."

Despite the fears, many residents have refused to sign the municipality's documents, seeing them as a last-ditch effort to force them off the land.

"The Phnom Penh Municipality wants to separate this community into two groups. They don't want us working together," said community representative Lim Sambo at a press conference held by villagers after their meeting with Mann Chhoeun.

"This is one of the tricks of [City Hall]. They have used it before."

[The] municipality wants to separate this community into two groups.

He said that while officials had not forced villagers to thumbprint the forms, they were trying to "intimidate" people by presenting them with quasi-legal documents, and that villagers would continue to hold out for market-value compensation.

A March 27 property appraisal by Bonna Realty Group, commissioned by the Community Legal Education Centre, found that the land of Group 78 was valued at $15,210,000 - around $1,300 per square metre.

"People want compensation based on free market prices because we are here legally and have an independent land appraisal," Lim Sambo said.

When contacted Sunday, Mann Chhoeun said the Friday meeting was set up to "assess family statistics" and denied residents' allegations that the city is trying to play a trick on them, accusing them of spreading "bad words".

"We want to be good with people, but they do not understand us," he said Sunday. "We are trying to avoid conflict."



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