Ou Virak, second from left, secretary-general of the Alliance for Freedom of Expression; Kek Galabru, second from right, president of Licadho; and Pa Nguon Teang, right, deputy director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, join other civil society leaders and activists on July 6 to release 90 sparrows at Prey Sar prison in an appeal for the freeing of three people accused of organizing protests against the eviction of villagers in Sambok Chab (Village 14) on the bank of the Tonle Bassac.
T he process of evicting residents and squatters from communities within the Sangkat Tonle Bassac continues to accelerate with relocations announced for the 1,465 families of Village 15, and the 172 families residing in Group 78.
Group 78 is adjacent to Sambok Chab, or Village 14, where residents were forcibly evicted last month and relocated to an undeveloped site 22 km outside Phnom Penh.
Mea Sopheap, Tonle Bassac commune chief, said Phnom Penh municipality will evict the villagers living in the area's Group 78 community very soon because the land is needed to build a road for the Sour Srun Company who have occupied the Sambok Chab land.
"They cannot claim that they are living there legally; they live on public land and now the government needs it for development, so they have to leave," Sopheap told the Post on July 13, "If they refuse to remove force will be used to evict them."
But the householders in Group 78 say their occupation has long been recognized by the authorities. Sovan, who said he has lived in Group 78 for almost 20 years, said he could not accept the City Hall policy, which offers to provide him with only a 5 meter by 12 meter plot on the outskirts of the city and $500.
"I am not afraid of any threats of force for evicting me from my house," Sovan said, "Authorities cannot use force to evict people in Group 78, because we live on the land legally."
Another villager, who asked not to be named, said he would support the government if it intended to develop the land in the public interest, but he believes it is unjust to sell the land to a private company and make poor people suffer.
"They cannot treat us like they treated the people in Sambok Chab," the villager said. "We have a letter recognized by the authorities and from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. They should provide us with a fair deal."
The 172 families in Group 78 are demanding either that the proposed relocation site be properly prepared for them, or payment of $700 per square meter of the land they now occupy. Municipal authorities have issued several public letters telling them to prepare to move to Trapang Krasang commune, Dangkor district, 22 km from Phnom Penh, where they will get 5m x 12 m plot of land and $500 for each families.
On July 6, Chamkarmon district governor Lo Yuy issued a letter to the occupants of nearby Village 15 in Sangkat Tonle Bassac, saying that on July 14, the authorities will summon the villagers to get plots of land in Damnak Trayeung village, Choam Chao commune, Dangkor district.
Commune chief Sopheap said the 1,465 families in Village 15 will receive better compensation than other recent evictees because the 7NG company, which has been awarded the 3.6 hectares of Bassac land they occupy, has built homes for them on the relocation site.
He said the Village 15 has seven communities and on July 14, 356 families at Phirun community will receive a plot of land, already prepared.
"The company will remove one community every three months until finished," Sopheap said, "The 190 families at Happy Community will be next."
The evicted families' tenure of their allotments at the various new sites is uncertain. The Suor Srun Enterprise Company promised the inhabitants of Village 14 (Sambok Chab) that they would issued with true land titles to the lots given to them at their relocation site. But after the company handed the relocation site over to the Phnom Penh Municipality, the City Hall officials said the villagers would not get clear title to the land; they would have a right only to occupy, but never to sell.
Kek Galabru, president of rights group Licadho, said the government had not prepared infrastructure [roads, water, sewerage, electricity, or schools] at any of the relocation sites before evictions and did not accept any responsibility for the displaced people beyond delivering them to their new home site.
"We appeal to authorities stop using violence during evictions," Galabru said, "The recent government activities are serious violations of human rights."
She said many children who were evicted from Sambok Chab to Andong village are getting diarrhea and acute respiratory diseases. More than 3,000 relocated villagers have received medicine from her organization.
"The company should develop the areas before removing them," she said.
Forty-eight families originally from Sangkat Tonle Bassac's Village 14 who were forcibly relocated to Trapang Krasang commune in Dangkor district, went to the Ministry of Justice and City Hall on July 13 to deliver a written complaint about living conditions. But, according to the villagers, at both offices they were dispersed by police who attempted to confiscate their documents.
Bot Bopha, 56, said the families thumb-printed a letter addressed to Ministry of Justice and City Hall officials asking for basic necessities such as tents, rice and equipment to build temporary shelters.
Bopha said the 48 families were forcibly evicted from Sambok Chab on June 6. She said that because the families refused to go quietly they have been denied the same compensation as other villagers.
"The authorities threatened us that if we come to complain they will arrest us or take away our land," Bopha said, "We couldn't submit the complaint to City Hall because police tried to seize and destroy the document."
The 168 families evicted from near Preah Monivong Hospital were taken to Ang Snoul district in Kandal province where they received 7m by 14m plots of land. The families of soldiers and police also received $1,300 and the civilians $500 for villagers.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights issued a statement on July 7 that the recent evictions of families from both Sambok Chab and near Preah Monivong Hospital are a consequence of the sale of public land to private companies. The Sambok Chab villagers are now living at a relocation site far from their previous homes without adequate shelter or clean water or other basic infrastructure.