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Residents brace for evictions

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HENG CHIVOAN 

Residents of the Rene Descartes community destroy their businesses in compliance with a City Hall eviction notice.

ONE community facing eviction on Tuesday watched its deadline pass quietly and heard they will have a chance in court to defend their claims to the land, while another had their businesses shut down by authorities, in what residents say is an attempt to force them to accept the government's relocation terms.

Daun Penh district authorities put up additional fences around the community living next to the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes, Cambodia's oldest international school, blocking access to ground-floor businesses.

Residents of Group 78, however, saw their eviction deadline come and go, and even received a court date when they will have a chance to present evidence explaining that they should be allowed to stay.

"Now, we have a court warrant to show our evidence to them on May 18 at 8am. It is a good chance for us," said Lim Sambo, a Group 78 representative.

Yin Savat, a lawyer for the Community for Legal Education Centre, said the court warrant should put off a forced eviction until after the decision.

 "According to the law, City Hall cannot implement their eviction letter because we have filed a complaint to the Court already to cancel it," he said.

"I have a court warrant. If tomorrow they come to pull our houses down, it means they did not respect to the law."

Meanwhile, across the city near the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes, 37 families say they are being squeezed out of their homes and have no power to fight back.

The district deputy governor said the eviction deadline for the community has been extended to May 15, but residents say authorities have closed down the community's businesses.

In Daravuth, a resident of the Descartes community, said "[District authorities] said they will allow us to live inside the fences, but we cannot do business. We will only have a small gate to go in and out," said In Daravuth, a resident of the Descartes community.

He said the community still wanted to negotiate with City Hall, even though authorities said they had ceased discussions on April 29.

"I do not react to the authorities because they have guns and power. We're simple people. We can only stand and watch them do anything they want," In Daravuth said.

Kem Vichet, a village representative, said that the new green fences were just a tactic to force the community to accept the government's relocation terms.

"They did this to force us to accept their compensation because we are impoverished," he said, adding that now they can only "wait for an intervention from the French embassy".

Sok Penh Vuth, Daun Penh district deputy governor, said, "We just came to put a fence to close this area. We did not use violence against them.

"They can live inside their house," he said,  "but I hope everything will be finished by this week. There are only 10 families [who have not agreed to relocation terms] left."

Sok Penh Vuth denied that the residents were being compelled to take the money and leave.

"We do not force them to take the compensation. They volunteer to take it, and now City Hall is thinking about their demands for more money," he said.

Chan Soveth, a monitor at the rights group Adhoc, disagrees and warned that a forced eviction could become violent.

"First, they [the authorities] put the fences surrounding the area. Later on, they will stop them from entering and cut off the electricity, and then the violence comes," he said.

The government says it will pay US$10,000, $7,000 or $5,000 to each family living near the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes depending on how long they have been on the land, as well as supply a 4-metre-by-8-metre  empty lot in Thnot Chrum village, Boeung Tumpum commune - an area that residents say is often flooded.

Last month, housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut said about 120,000 people had been displaced or evicted in the last two decades ago, working out to about one in 10 residents of Phnom Penh.

A spokesperson for the  French embassy was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

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