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River park plans ‘surprising’

REPRESENTATIVES of more than 800 families living along the Tonle Sap river expressed shock yesterday after learning that Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema announced on Tuesday that houses in three communes would be dismantled to make way for a public park.

Sok Kha, 44, a resident of Srah Chak commune in Daun Penh district, said yesterday that government officials had given them no warning before making the announcement.

“I have lived here for 30 years, so I was surprised to hear that all of a sudden they want to make a public park on our land,” he said.

Speaking at a ground-breaking ceremony in Russey Keo district on Tuesday, Kep Chuktema announced that residents of Russey Keo commune, Tuol Sangke commune and Srah Chak commune would be evicted to make way for a 100-by-250-metre public park.

The park, which will take six months to complete, is to be built with funding from City Hall as well as US$700,000 from Sokimex, a local petrol corporation that owns a petroleum depot on National Road 5 near the proposed park.

Sok Kha said he doubted that residents would be given fair compensation.

“Development is in the public’s interests, so if the government offers us fair compensation I will accept it,” he said. “But in my experience ... people affected by development projects do not receive fair compensation.”

Kep Chuktema said on Tuesday that he had ordered municipal officials to spread information about the impending relocation. But it would appear that details have been slow to trickle down to residents.

Hor Hong Seng, 45, who rents a home in Tuol Sangke commune, where he also has a machinery shop, said that few residents had heard anything about the park until Tuesday.

He said his business would suffer if he was forced to move.

Chan Samang, the chief of Russey Keo commune, said yesterday that she had not begun informing residents of the impending eviction because she still lacked important details.

“I myself do not know exactly what to tell people because we just received the order from Governor Kep Chuktema yesterday,” she said. “I do not know how much compensation City Hall will pay to affected families.”
“Residents have lived here for a long time, but the authorities have never recognised that they live legally on this land,” she said.
Heu Heng, the general director of Sokimex, said yesterday that the company had already begun land reclamation at the site and planned to build a drainage system as well as public parking spaces. He said that only one house on Sokimex’s land would have to be dismantled.
David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said yesterday that “authorities should consult the families and find a solution that is consistent with the law” and does not negatively impact livelihoods.
Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said that City Hall should take time “to arrange meetings with affected residents to discuss compensation” in exchange for leaving their land.
“We do not want to see authorities use force to evict people from their houses like at Dey Krahorm, Group 78 and other areas,” he said, referring to past violent evictions.
Kep Chuktema and Phnom Penh deputy governor Nuon Sameth could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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