A city official has informed the embattled residents of the Boeung Kak lakeside that they may not be evicted this week despite having received letters last week instructing them to accept compensation offers and vacate their homes.
Roughly 500 residents gathered on Friday to protest in front of the Phnom Penh headquarters of Shukaku Inc, the firm owned by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin that is in the process of filling in the lake and developing the site as a real estate project. Rights groups say more than 4,000 families will ultimately be displaced by the project, including roughly 2,000 who have yet to leave their homes.
Last week, lakeside residents received letters dated March 2 and signed by Daun Penh district governor Sok Sambath advising them that local authorities would “take strict measures and actions to push the villagers to leave the Boeung Kak area” if they did not voluntarily vacate their homes within seven days.
Daun Penh deputy governor Sok Penhvuth told the residents who gathered on Friday that they “must volunteer to dismantle [their] homes”, though he said this week’s deadline could be pushed back.
“Do not worry, we will not evict,” he said. “The letter just informed all of you to immediately cooperate with [local authorities] to speed up the Boeung Kak development.”
Dozens of families have been evicted from the lakeside in piecemeal fashion since Shukaku received its land concession in 2007, though last week’s notice represented the first time that all lakeside residents had been targeted collectively.
Rights groups say as many as 10,000 people could be forced from their homes if the threatened eviction comes to pass, making it potentially the largest single forced relocation in the Kingdom’s recent history.
Residents have denounced as insufficient the three options for compensation with which they have been presented: US$8,500 cash, housing in Dangkor district and two million riel ($495), or on-site relocation, the plans for which have yet to materialise.
At Friday’s rally, villagers demanded that 15 hectares of the 133-hectare project be set aside for their own use.
“Why can’t the government give just 15 hectares to the residents?” community representative Tep Vanny said.
“They want to develop the country from poverty to prosperity, so we only ask for 15 hectares.”
Sok Penhvuth was noncommittal regarding the residents’ demand for resettlement land, saying that he would report the request to Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema.
“After this, we will have more discussion,” he said.
“I will make a report about your request to the Phnom Penh governor because district officials do not have the right to make a decision.”
Shukaku has partnered with a Chinese firm, Inner Mongolia Erdos Hung Jun Investment Co, to develop the controversial project as a joint venture.
Prime Minister Hun Sen approved the partnership in November last year. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA