Villagers and the houses they have lived in since 1979 behind the Japanese embassy, face imminent eviction
RESIDENTS behind the new Japanese Embassy grounds have been ordered by authorities
to vacate their homes because their presence there will be an embarrassment to Cambodia.
In a letter dated June 8, 2000, Chamkarmon's District Chief, Chey Salong, wrote:
"As for the houses of our people living here temporarily next to the fence of
the Japanese Embassy, this is land on which the Government plans to build a road.
It is the land of the State which cannot provide title to the people.
"Living there harms the security and the health of our people. And it harms
the credit of our country and it will make more harm to the cooperation between the
Kingdom of Cambodia and the Kingdom of Japan.
"In order to take care of our culture, of the people who are living in Phnom
Penh which is the heart of the country, please let our people remove their houses
and resettle in the development zone of Toul Samau, which the city is going to provide
them, in 15 days," stated the eviction notice.
Residents told the Post commune authorities warned them on June 12 not to speak to
reporters or NGOs. That same day plain-clothes police began a campaign of intimidation
and residents feared they might be burned out.
The First Secretary at the Japanese Embassy, Toshihiku Horiuchi, told the Post the
situation "is a matter between the Cambodian authorities and the people living
there. The Japanese Embassy has nothing to do with that."
"We hope the problem will be resolved in a peaceful manner, without violence,"
said Horiuchi, adding that legally the Japanese Embassy has "no duties or obligations"
to offer compensation to the residents.
Although the Japanese Embassy had not asked the Cambodian authorities to move the
people, the Embassy has lodged complaints about the residents in the past when they
made holes in the fence and used the Embassy grounds to dump their garbage, said
In a meeting on June 12 at District Chief Chey Salong's office, representatives of
the nine families ordered to relocate met with local authorities. The representatives
proposed that the authorities pay the families enough compensation to allow them
to move to a place of their choice within Phnom Penh.
Salong told the representatives it was unlikely the families would receive compensation.
All the authorities promised was an 8-by-12 meter plot of land near the site of the
new prison, and help to move the dismantled homes to the site.
Salong told the Post the language used in the eviction notice was chosen to make
it sound "official". He said the municipal authorities are unlikely to
pay much compensation to the nine families because they are not living on embassy-owned
He said it will be best if the nine families move. "Their health will be better
if they move to the new location because the air is cleaner there and it is more
spacious," said Salong.
One of the residents, Cheng Vany, a 37-year-old laborer, said: "We will not
exchange our Dream Song [moto] for a Suzuki" - an analogy for the quality of
their present site to the one proposed by the authorities.
The site offered by the Government for resettlement, Toul Samau, is near the new
Prey Sar prison, and residents say moving there will adversely affect their livelihood.
Residents who spoke to the Post said they had lived in their homes since 1979 and
did not consider them at all "temporary" as was stated in the District
Chief's eviction notice.
Khan Sokunthea, 32, said she does not understand why the government provided land
titles to business people around their community but not to the poor people who live
"This is a poor community and we don't have any power against the Government,
so they can choke us," she said.
"The people do not want to change place, but if they have to, then they want
compensation so they can choose themselves where to go. They want similar compensation
as the people moved away from the Thai Embassy - $7,200 [per household]," said
(The residents behind the Thai Embassy say they never received the promised compensation.)
Sokunthea hoped the Japanese Embassy would intervene in the dispute. "We learned
that Japanese people are not mean like other people and that the Japanese help Cambodia."
Sokunthea said last December some Japanese people came to meet with the residents.
"They told us 'Our embassy is not cheap like the other [Thai] embassy'."
Horiuchi said he did not believe any representatives from the Japanese embassy had
talked to the residents.
Mik Sam Ang, 62, has lived since 1979 in one of the homes to be vacated. He said:
"I would like to call on the Japanese Embassy for help. If I rely on my Government,
my house will just get smashed."
Another resident, whose home is not on the list to be removed now, but thinks it
will be in the future, said: "The Government does not follow the law. That is
why people always lose to the Government."
Ream Mao, 46, said she still feels pain after a clash with police on June 2. She
was blasted with a water cannon as police dislodged residents protesting the closure
of the access lane between the new Japanese and Thai Embassies.
Mao said she is afraid the authorities will use violence again. "I'm so scared
of the police. When I meet one now I am afraid to look in their face."
Lon Sreng, 68, built her house in 1979. Seven family members live there and they
make their living by selling fruit and rice soup to neighbors. She said: "If
the authorities are afraid that if we live here the relations between Cambodia and
Japan will be harmed, why don't they just give us money [to move]?"
"I will not leave my house. If the police come, I will die in my house,"