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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Land disputes and evictions ... some lose their homes

Land disputes and evictions ... some lose their homes

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land.jpg

Hired workers dismantle and remove houses of people living near Wat Stoeung Meanchey.

The first of a projected 20,000 people to be evicted from public land in Phnom Penh

this year got underway on Feb 15 next to Stoeung Meanchey pagoda in Meanchey district.

While police supervised, civilians recruited for the day ripped down houses and shops

occupied by about 150 people.

According to witnesses the owners' possessions and even the timber and iron roofs

from their houses were loaded on to trucks and hand carts and taken away.

None of the people have managed to recover their possessions.

The clearing was ordered to enable a private transport company access to widen the

road in the district.

Uch Ponh, a program officer with the Urban Sector Group, said the evictions were

part of a program which will see 20,000 people moved from their homes, often with

no alternative accommodation provided.

She said in this particular case about 600 families (3,000 people in total) would

be evicted from their homes.

As the evictions got underway tempers quickly became heated. Police disarmed one

woman of a meat cleaver after she became upset when military police stole her stock

of coconuts.

Another woman accused the police and municipal authorities of behaving like the Khmer

Rouge.

"The Government has no sympathy for the people," she said.

"We can say that it is Pol Pot in year two thousand."

As the authorities' agents moved to her house she called out to her children: "Put

our possessions in the hand cart before the [expletive] takes them."

"These people are worse than Pol Pot.

"When they moved us from the city we were allowed to take our possessions with

us."

Many of the home owners were angry at the lack of notice they were given about the

move.

One man said that he only found out they would be evicted on Feb 14. Other people

said that there had been prior warning but they were told it was only shops that

would be affected - the houses could stay.

Many of the home owners were angry about what they saw as selective eviction and

pointed out a solidly built modern house neighboring them that was left untouched.

They told a researcher present that the house belonged to a high ranking military

official and while it was on land which was designated for the road widening project

police refused to confront the owner.

Uch Ponh said that the householders felt powerless to do anything.

She said some people had lived there since 1980 and in one case a women had bought

her land from the district authorities.

She said they had tried to complain to the local authorities and even the National

Assembly but to no avail.

She said one woman had inquired at the Court about laying a complaint but was told

unless she had money to pay off the court staff it was pointless.

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