Scores of families in Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila community tore down a corrugated metal fence and took up temporary residence in developer Phan Imex’s unfinished Building 9 as anger over smaller-than-promised relocation plots boiled over yesterday morning.
The occupation began after local and municipal authorities came to the site yesterday to measure plots of land for displaced families embroiled in the long-running land dispute. The plots became a point of contention, however, when it was discovered they were only three-by-four metres – half as big as the four-by-six-metre plots residents were promised, Borei Keila resident Chher Phan said.
“This is the reason behind our action, and we decided to live temporarily in Building 9 while we wait to live in the temporary settlement that Phnom Penh municipal authorities will build for us as we wait for resolution based on the 2003 and 2004 [resettlement] agreement” with developer Phan Imex, said Phan, who is occupying a room with her three children and another seven-person family.
At about 11am yesterday, the Borei Keila families could be seen making themselves at home in Building 9, sweeping out the building’s dusty one-room apartments and laying down floor mats for seating. Some gathered to chat in the open-air portions of their newly claimed flats.
Chhay Kimhorn, who also claimed a room in Building 9, said that even though the building was incomplete – many rooms sported uneven concrete and gravel floors rather than tiles – the occupiers would hold out until an agreement was reached, “even if there is a violent crackdown”.
Development at the site has been stalled for years after Phan Imex declared it had run out of money, and yesterday building occupier Chum Ngan said that if the development was bankrupt, the building should go to the community.
Phan Imex chief Suy Sophan could not be reached for comment yesterday.
There were no police in sight for the better part of yesterday’s occupation, but Prampi Makara district governor Sorm Sovann called the action a “serious offence”, brought on by a small group of rabble-trousers.
“We are sorry that they believed the incitement by a small group of people and broke the law by breaking into the building without permission,” he said. “We will take administrative measures when we get orders from our superiors.”
Municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said yesterday that authorities had called for a handful of community representatives to come to City Hall today for talks, but residents were adamant yesterday that the entire community accompany them in the interest of “transparency”.
And while Dimanche also said that yesterday’s action “is against the law, obviously, and interrupts the resolution-finding process”, he would not say how authorities planned to deal with the break-in.
However, after Veal Vong commune chief Keo Sakal visited the building around 4pm yesterday counting occupants and asking them not to stay the night, occupier Has Chenda said that she was “afraid of security” evicting them at night.
“Maybe they will come to take us away,” she said.