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Officials move on Group 78

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Residents of the embattled slum community say local authorities have made house calls, asking them to accept relocation to the city's outskirts

Rick Valenzuela

Yong, 18, whittles sticks used for holding baloons at her home in Group 78 on Wednesday. She says she has lived on the site for 14 years.

LOCAL authorities have visited the Group 78 slum community in Tonle Bassac commune, asking residents to thumbprint documents promising to vacate their homes and relocate to the city outskirts.

Residents and housing rights advocates said that district and village officials, led by Chamkarmon Deputy Governor Mea Sopheap, had been visiting the community since Monday, pressuring residents to thumbprint documents and offering $5,000 and a 5-metre-by-12-metre plot in the Dangkao district in exchange for their waterfront homes.

"The officials threatened my mother to accept the offer, saying Group 78 would be evicted like the Sambok Chab community," resident Tan Khem Mony, 30, said Wednesday, referring to the forced eviction of more than 1,300 families in June 2006.

"It was intimidation. I cannot leave here because the offer from the authorities is too small to buy a new house."

Community representative Lim Sambo said that since Monday around 20 of the community's 88 families had been interviewed by officials, but he emphasised that residents were standing firm.

"What we want is land titles from the government," he said, referring to the Kingdom's 2001 Land Law, which allows peaceful, long-term residents to claim ownership over untitled land.

The residents of Group 78, who occupy a valuable strip of land near the National Assembly building, have come under increasing pressure to vacate their properties, which the municipality claims is a state road.

In June 2006, the 1,367 families from the adjacent community of Sambok Chap were forcibly driven from their homes on behalf of local developer Sour Srun company.

Divide and rule

Attorney Ly Ping, who represents the community, said the door-to-door tactics of the authorities were designed to undermine solidarity amongst the families remaining on the site. "They fear talking to the group because they are strong, so they try to divide everybody," he said.

Man Vunthy, a legal coordinator from the Community Legal Action Center, said the municipality had the right to ask people to leave, but should pay fair compensation in return.

"I think the authorities are trying to cheat people," he said.

"If they want to enlarge the road, people cannot stay, but they must pay fair and just compensation." He added that reimbursement at market prices was the only fair option. "According to a land appraisal in October 2007, land here is worth $1,200 per square metre, but now the land [price] has increased," he said.

But Ly Ping said that the municipality was not in a position to make fair rulings on urban land disputes. "It is a conflict of interests," he said.

"For example, villagers want to submit letters to ask for [land] titles, but how can City Hall approve these? City Hall wants this land, and they also have the power to develop it."

Mea Sopheap could not be reached for comment.

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