Photo by: Pha Lina
Workers dismantle homes in Toek La’ak I commune, Tuol Kork district, after authorities declared that the families were living on public pavements.
AUTHORITIES have begun dismantling homes on a crowded street in Tuol Kork district, a move that residents fear will render 20 families homeless.
Local authorities have accused about 50 families in Toek La’ak I commune of living illegally on public pavements. The residents, however, say they have lived on the spot for at least two decades.
“We have been in this area for more than 20 years already,” said resident Khov Sothy. “Why are they coming today to destroy our homes and to accuse us of living illegally on the street?”
He added that the authorities had approved of the families living on the road before they built their homes. “If they claim we are living on the street, why would they have allowed us to build our homes in the first place? We asked for permission from the authorities.”
On Tuesday morning, an area between Streets 257 and 261 was blocked by police barricades as authorities prepared to move in on what has become a narrow lane stretching through to Street 122.
By mid-morning, authorities had begun dismantling part of a large villa on the block. The Khmer term for “tear down” was spray-painted in red on roughly 20 other homes. Other residents were told they could stay; only parts of their homes would be dismantled.
Some of the families were angry that they would not be offered any compensation.
“We are not living here illegally. If they want to destroy our homes, they should at least provide us with compensation,” said resident Mong Pao.
Authorities told the villagers that they needed to widen the road to allow easier access for fire trucks.
“We want to reopen this road,” said Bech Sok Kheun, the commune chief. “People took over this road when they saw free land.”
He said authorities were justified in not offering any compensation to the affected families. “We did not give them any compensation even though they opposed our plan because they took over the street. They should allow us to open up the road,” he said.
An advocate with a local rights group said authorities should have negotiated with the villagers.
Photo by: Pha Lina
Residents say they had approval to build their homes.
“Even though the authorities want to reopen the street, they should have negotiated with the affected people first,” said Am Sam Ath, technical superviser for the rights group Licadho. “These people should have the right to file a complaint about authorities destroying their homes.”
Tuesday’s move continues a lengthy string of evictions around the city, with authorities often accusing residents of living on publicly owned land.
In a similar situation, more than 100 families who live near Phnom Penh International Airport still face eviction, with authorities accusing the residents of living on state-owned pavements.
One observer said the tactic was common.
“This happens regularly,” said Depika Sherchan, the interim coordinator of the Asia and Pacific programme for the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), who was speaking in general terms because she didn’t have specific knowledge of the Tuol Kork situation.
“Authorities arbitrarily declare that residents are living on public land. Then the residents get evicted.”
She urged authorities to clarify the situation by mapping out precisely what land is public and what is private.
“Unless they do that, everything is going to be arbitrary,” Sherchan said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY IRWIN LOY