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Lake residents divided over future

Residents of Boeung Kak's Village 4 have begun their long exodus to resettlement zones on the city outskirts, but some have pledged to occupy their properties to the bitter end

AS rising waters creep through the streets and into the squat wooden houses of Boeung Kak's  Village 4, long-time residents are divided over whether to fight City Hall on the issue, or accept the compensation package offered by the municipality in exchange for vacating their homes.

Over 4,000 lakeside families are expected to make way for the planned 133-hectare commercial and housing development - the largest single eviction in Cambodia since 1975.

Lakeside residents have held four protests against the project so far, demanding that City Hall halt the filling of the lake and provide market-price compensation. Many residents have rejected the municipality's compensation offer of $8,500 cash or replacement housing plus $500 cash.

"It's such a small amount and I cannot buy a house in the city centre," said Neth Mao, 29, as he watched neighbours dismantling their homes. "I agree with development, but development must care about the people's livelihood. We are just demanding fair compensation to continue our living."

Yai Oun, 53, also said she was standing firm and refusing to leave Village 4. "I can't take the house or money that the company is offering because my house is big and I have many children," she said. "I need at least $20,000 for leaving this place. If they don't solve this or give me more money, I will protest forever."

But faced with a fait accompli - local developer Shukaku Inc. began filling the lake with sand August 26 - many residents say they have no choice but to dismantle their homes and vacate the land.

"I volunteered to leave," said resident Chim Han, 25, as she packed up her possessions in preparation for departure. "No one threatened me, but leaving is a better choice because if I stay we will live in fear of forced eviction."

Chim Han added that she had accepted the municipality's offer of resettlement on the city outskirts. "I must leave this polluted area and the wooden house on the lake, and I will receive a new concrete house, although it is small," she said.

Sreang Sreila, 35, also said that she plans to accept resettlement and build a new life elsewhere.

"I do not know what I will do, because at Boeung Kak I grow morning glory," she said, adding that sooner or later the Boeung Kak residents will be forced to move.

"Protest against the rich and powerful people seems useless," she said. "I do not want to resist like this."

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