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Meeting axed for Group 78

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City's alleged cancelling of talks stirs suspicions of village chief.

Photo by: Tracey Shelton

Young Oeu Khut poses for the camera last week as his mother and fellow residents of embattled Group 78 in Phnom Penh prepare for their day's work selling shells in the capital.

 
ACCORDING to a resident of Group 78, City Hall cancelled a meeting to settle on relocation terms with residents of Group 78, members of the community said Tuesday. 

"We got an official letter from City Hall around 8am [Tuesday] inviting us to negotiate about moving to a new location at 3pm. However, by

noon, the chief of the village told us that the meeting was cancelled," said Lim Sambo, a Group 78 representative.

The unexplained cancellation, he added, has stirred up existing mistrust among residents of Group 78.

"I don't trust the village chief. He only notified us in person without any official documentation, so this afternoon we went there anyway to make sure they did not play any tricks on us," Lim Sambo said.

Suspicions were also fuelled by the obscure content of the invitation letter, which included reference to irrelevant parties such as police and the military.

"The letter mentioned the heads of the Phnom Penh police and the district police, the Phnom Penh Military Police chief, the district chief and the head of the transportation department. This appears to be a threat. We're really worried," said Soroth, another Group 78 representative.

Misperception

Group 78 residents say the hardship they are currently experiencing is in part rooted in the government's misperception that they belong to Sambok Chab community - one that previously illegally took government land - and now want to return to the area.

  I don't trust the village chief. he only notified us in person.

"We want to ask City Hall to stop reporting to the prime minister that we are from Sambok Chab. We are people of Group 78," said Lim Sambo.
While residents were waiting outside City Hall, two security guards told them that Mann Chhoeun, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, was too busy to resolve their problem.

Mann Chhoeun could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and Tonle Bassac commune Chief Khat Narith said he was "busy in a meeting" and could not comment.

Yin Savat, a lawyer with the Community for Legal Education Centre, said Tuesday that "City Hall did not perform their duties", and that this was not the proper way for government to communicate with its people.

Official government communications about meetings should be sent out no less than three or four days in advance, Yin Savat added.

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