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Minister praises Boeung Kak fill-in

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A view of the former Boeung Kak lake, now completely filled in with sand. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Shukaku Inc, the development firm that evicted more than 4,000 families to fill in Boeung Kak lake, has been praised for “reducing poverty” in a letter from Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon.

The letter, dated February 12 and signed by Chhon, who is also a deputy prime minister, sings the praises of tycoon Cheung Sopheap – who is referred to as Shukaku’s CEO and is the wife of owner Lao Meng Khin.

“We deeply and sincerely thank you for previously implementing your full payment and completing the sand-pumping of Boeung Kak lake,” Chhon’s letter, obtained yesterday, says.

“The Ministry of Economy and Finance strongly hopes – and is confident – you will continue to be a good example and co-operate closely with the government to continue to reduce residents’ poverty and contribute to national development.”

The government awarded a 99-year, $79 million contract to Shukaku in 2007 to develop Boeung Kak as a satellite city.

Since then, thousands of families have been evicted, the lake has been filled in, and protests – as well as arrests – have been common. Development, however, is yet to begin.

Boeung Kak villager Heng Mom, whose house was demolished by Shukaku, said the letter was designed to cause evictees more suffering.

“Their development doesn’t help to reduce poverty – they are making more poverty,” she said.

Sia Phearum, secretariat-director of the Housing Rights Task Force, also dismissed assertions that Shukaku had helped to reduce poverty.

“Those families would be disappointed by that letter,” he said. “They have lost everything. Some – like Chea Dara, the lady who jumped from the bridge – lost their lives.”

Shukaku partnered with Chinese company Erdos Hong Jun Investment in 2010 to form development firm Shukaku Erdos.  

The partners’ office closed early last year, but Shukaku was advertising for engineers and architects in September and for a human resources clerk in October.

The response of an employee who answered the phone at Shukaku’s office yesterday suggests recruiting is still occurring. “[The Boeung Kak lake project] is not something I know about, as I’m just the new guy,” he said.

Chhon, Sopheap and Meng Khin could not be reached.

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