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Not-so-happy community

Several villagers at Rik Reay commune forced to demolish homes to make way for fencing around development project, following protest at Canadia Bank.

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HENG CHIVOAN

A resident of Phnom Penh's Rik Reay, or Happy Community, Hang Sochi Ao, 9, stands in the wreckage of his house on Sunday. Sixteen houses out of the original 219 in the community were torn down and zinc fences were put up around the area Sunday as the community is set for relocation by Bassac Garden City, which plans to develop the area.

HOUSES belonging to several residents at Phnom Penh's Rik Reay community along the Bassac River in Chamkarmon district Sunday  were torn down and residents and journalists threatened with violence.

Villagers and journalists were barred from entering the area by police and staff of the developer, Bassac Garden City, which has - with the municipality's help - begun to fence off some land. Bassac Garden City has been linked in the past to Canadia Bank.

A villager representative, high school teacher Chan Bunthol, said he had received a death threat and could not risk going to work at Preah Sisowath High School in case the company tore down his house while he was away.

"This mistreatment is to force us to agree to their compensation package," he said. "I am now worried for my personal security because I heard a company staffer on the walkie-talkie saying they would kill me because I am a community leader. I want to tell you that if I die, it was not at the hands of anyone else but because I was murdered by the staff of Bassac Garden City."

Residents were forced to pull down 16 houses out of the 219 on the land. Bassac Garden City staff and police intimidated villagers and members of the press to prevent them entering the area and sprayed coloured dye on camera equipment.

Another representative, Heng Samphos, who has lived at Rik Reay since 1990, said the company had planned to develop the area since 2007.

He said some families had lived there since the 1980s. Sixty families have not agreed compensation.

"The company used violence as a negotiation tactic, and now they come to destroy our houses without warning," he said. "At 6:30 this morning, the chief of Tonle Bassac commune came and ordered us to demolish our houses so they could erect a fence. He said they have a government order but he didn't show us."

Last Thursday residents protested outside Canadia Bank's main office in Phnom Penh to demand the bank stop erecting fences around the community. But the bank denied it was involved and said it had simply provided the developer with a loan.

Photo by:
HENG CHIVOAN

Resident Khin Sreang, 40, in front of the fence. The Khmer text warns people that the fence is electrified and that it could kill them.

"Canadia Bank always says this development project has nothing to do with them, and that they merely loaned money to Bassac Garden City, but we do not believe them - in reality this belongs to Canadia Bank," Heng Samphos said.

Pung Kheav Se is the chief executive officer at the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation Ltd (OCIC) and is also the head of Canadia Bank. He confirmed Bassac Garden City is one of OCIC's projects but denied Canadia Bank was involved in the development.

"Canadia Bank provided a loan to Bassac Garden City, but we haven't built fences around the community. That is officials from the municipality and the commune, who are following the government's instruction," Pung Kheav Se said.

A government directive dated January 30 outlined two options for residents to leave what it referred to as their "temporary homes". The directive, which mentions Pung Kheav Se by name and refers to a January 24 letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen endorsing the development, was signed by Prak Sokhon, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, and was addressed to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema.

One offer is a house in Damnak Trayoeng village and US$10,000, of which the municipality will provide US$1,000 and the developer the rest.

The second option is "onsite housing", which the company will build on 16,200 square metres of land in the community in the "amount of US$5 to $6 million".

Heng Samphos said they were being offered a price well below market value: "Just US$20,000 for one house - and if we agree to that they will give us one flat and US$10,000. We just want the fair market price."

Resident Meas Vanna, 37, agreed to take $20,000 and demolish her own house.

"They gave me $5,000 deposit, and once I have torn it down I can get the rest of the money from Canadia Bank," she said. "The reason I agreed to sell is because their staff said if I don't agree they will tear down my house without compensation. So it is better to sell than be forced to move without being paid, even though I know this money is insufficient to buy a new house."

A monitor for a local housing NGO, the Housing Rights Task Force, decried the fence-building as intimidation: "Residents have legal rights," said Bun Rachana.

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