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Lakeside deal brokered

Lakeside deal brokered

Prime Minister Hun Sen has signed off on an offer for on-site relocation for Boeung Kak lake residents, perhaps bringing to a close an embarrassing chapter in the development of Phnom Penh’s urban landscape.

Hun Sen signed a sub-decree on August 11 that set aside 12.44 hectares of Srah Chak commune in Daun Penh district to be “offered to the people” for on-site relocation, according to a copy obtained yesterday by the Post.

The sub-decree ordered relevant ministries and Phnom Penh City Hall to “implement this sub-decree effectively”.

Community leaders yesterday responded positively to the offer, which was about 2.5 hectares shy of their demand. “We are very happy . . . we have been waiting many years for this decision from the leader of the government,” Nun Sokheng, a representative of villagers in Srah Chak commune’s Village 23, said last night.

Roughly 1,000 families, who have braved bloody rallies and remained steadfast in their epic fight for fair compensation or on-site housing, appear set to benefit from the deal.

Protests over the development had become a near-daily occurrence in Phnom Penh, but a seemingly far more persuasive form of pressure came last week when the World Bank announced its suspension of millions of dollars in funding to the Kingdom. The internat-ional body announced it would not provide any new lending to Cambodia “until an agreement is reached with the residents of Boeung Kak lake”.

Three projects worth US$128 million were marked as awaiting approval.

Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said yesterday it was “good information for the Boeung Kak residents” and “very intelligent of  Premier Hun Sen that he can find a good solution for helping these people”.

But reports that representatives from the private company developing the lakeside began buying up homes three days ago, in anticipation that the sub-decree would result in increased land values, raised questions about the bargain.

Sia Phearum said  people who community members had recognised as representatives of Shukaku Inc had bought lakeside houses at prices ranging from $30,000 to $200,000.

“When the government dissemin-ated this decree … the company tried to buy out the villagers,” he said, adding that he did not know how many homes had been purchased.

Shukaku, which is owned by ruling- party senator Lao Meng Khin, was granted a 99-year lease in 2007 to develop the 133-hectare site. It later joined with Chinese firm Erdos Hong Jun Investment Company, which has a 51 per cent stake in the project.

The development has displaced an estimated 15,000 people, many of whom felt forced to accept meagre compensat-ion or resettlement options.

Residents were offered a mere $8,500 in compensation or apartments in Dangkor district and payments of two million riel ($495), despite the fact that some held plots of land worth as much as $150,000.

Ek Madra, a spokesman at the Press and Quick Reactions Unit at the Council of Ministers, said yesterday he could not comment because he had no information on the issue. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached last night.           

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THOMAS MILLER AND DAVID BOYLE

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