A group of 50 families says the government relocation plan for the P Vihear site excludes them
Now, when the roads are good, they are asking us to resettle...."
Preah Vihear Province
AS political observers waited to see how Prime Minister Hun Sen’s weekend visit to Preah Vihear temple would affect relations with Thailand, a group of 50 families who have been living near the site for years hoped for the answer to a more concrete question: Where would they be forced to move come March?
The families are among the 473 currently living in Kor Muoy village, below the ridge where the temple is located. When fighting first broke out near the temple following its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2008, the government set in motion plans to relocate residents to a site some 30 kilometres away, citing concerns for their safety as well as a desire to develop the area as a “cultural heritage site”.
But representatives of 50 families say they have not been included on a list of those to receive housing at the new site, to which Kor Muoy residents are scheduled to move in March, according to notices recently placed in the village by local authorities.
Pov Narith, the 40-year-old owner of the Prasat Preah Vihear Manrith guesthouse in Kor Muoy, said the families had been looking to Hun Sen’s visit as an opportunity to clarify what will happen to them after they are forced to move. He said the payment of 2 million riels alone – without a new plot of land – would not be sufficient compensation.
“When I first came here in 2001 there was nothing. Life was difficult back then,” he said. “There were bad roads, and there was no telephone network. Now, when the roads are good, they are asking us to resettle, but it is not easy to tear down my guesthouse, and I’m worried that life will become difficult again.”
Government officials said they could not confirm why the families had been left off the housing list, but Pov Narith and others interviewed for this story said it was because of their support for opposition political parties.
He said he led a trip to Phnom Penh last April to submit petitions to the Senate and the National Assembly, and that the Senate responded in May that they should be entitled to live on the land.
But when representatives tried to press their case to the premier on Saturday, they were rebuffed by security, he said.
“We knew Samdech Techo would visit this village, and we tried to see him and submit a petition about this partisan discrimination, but we were detained on the day of his visit and have now become targets of discrimination by the local authorities,” he said.
Heng Sreypov, 46, who has lived in a large wooden house in Kor Muoy since 2002, is also among the villagers who have been left off the list at Techo Hun Sen Natural Village. She said she was detained by a bodyguard of provincial governor Sar Thavy for five hours on the day the premier visited.
“I did nothing wrong, but the bodyguard of the governor pulled me out from the crowd and pushed me into the car as a criminal. I was ashamed, but I didn’t have any idea what I did wrong,” she said.
Sar Thavy could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Ham Sokha, one of the village chiefs at the relocation site, said the 50 families would need to wait to receive their plots of land because it was still being cleared.
“Everyone will receive land and a house of the same size,” he said, adding that he did not know why just 50 families had thus far been excluded.
In his speech at the relocation site on Saturday, Hun Sen said a total of 792 families would ultimately be able to live at the relocation site: the 473 from Kor Muoy as well as the 319 families who moved from the market at the base of the temple after their homes were destroyed by Thai rocket fire during a skirmish last April.
“Even if you did not vote for me, it is still my duty to resolve the problem for you, and I would like to confirm that in the long term the area around Preah Vihear will become a development site. I will no longer isolate this area such as before, and it will be linked by road to the border of Thailand and Laos so we can keep improving the conditions,” Hun Sen said.
Hang Sot, director of the Preah Vihear National Authority, declined to comment on specific plans for the cultural heritage site at the temple.