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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Road work on NR1 runs into housing dispute

Road work on NR1 runs into housing dispute

The public works project to

rebuild National Road 1 heading south from Phnom Penh to Neak Loeung has run into

trouble with resettling hundreds of roadside residents, and could be halted if

the government, Japanese aid and villagers can’t settle the dispute.

The 56km road from Phnom Penh to Neak Loeung is being improved at an

estimated cost of $75 million from a grant by Japan.

Road work started in November

2005 and is expected to be completed by March 2010.

The Cambodia Ministry of

Public Works and Transport is the agency in charge of executing the work. The

stretch from Neak Loeung to Bavet border gate with Vietnam was already improved with a

loan from the Asian Development Bank.

Public Works Director General

Chhin Kong Hien confirmed there are problems with the third phase of the

project from Koki market to Phnom Penh.

He said issues with residents along the roadside are not resolved and the

Japanese government is waiting to see a resolution before it starts the third

phase.

“If we cannot fix the

problems, I think construction activities will stop,” Kong Hien said.

Born Ban, a villager in Koki

Thom commune of Kien Svay district not far from Phnom Penh, said he had to move out of his roadside

home and farmland to a plot 2km back from the road. He received $480 government

compensation.

“How can I make a living with

this money,” he said. In his old location he ran a roadside stall, which he

says brought in about two million riel ($500) a year.

Moeun Ngoeun, a widowed

mother of four, said her home will be moved very soon to allow for the road

works. Although she expects to get $500 compensation, she said that will not be

enough to build a home.

“I do not know where I will

be relocated to,” Ngoeun said, crying. “I have nothing in hand.”

An official of Japan

International Cooperation Agency (JICA) said JICA is not in charge of

compensation.

“The government of Cambodia

is responsible for the compensation,” Yamashita Akira, JICA project advisor,

told the Post on March 3.

“JICA never pays for

compensation,” he said, adding that JICA followed its own “environmental and

social consultation” guidelines.

Akira said the government of Cambodia

prepared the relocation sites for people who had to be relocated, putting in a

drainage system, some toilets and an approach to the highway.

“We study carefully to try to

avoid any negative impact, but still there are some cases where we have to

mitigate the impact.

“We observed the impact

during the construction period and we have regular meeting with an inter-ministerial

resettlement committee,” Akira said.

He said about 4,000 families

live along the road from Phnom Penh

to Neak Leung and so far 400 families have been relocated.

The NGO Forum of Cambodia and

its affiliated Resettlement Action Network conducted a survey last August that

found more than 1,800 households were being resettled in the National Road 1

project. The NGOs said at the time that resettlement procedures and

compensation package were inadequate.

Chhit Sam Ath, executive

director of NGO Forum of Cambodia, said previous experience has shown road

projects are having devastating impacts on the livelihoods of local communities

due to inadequate compensation and resettlement practices.

Although in a February 27

statement Sam Ath said the forum welcomes development projects, he added, “We

fear that the NR1 project will repeat the mistakes of previous road projects in

Cambodia.”

“I hope that the finding of

our survey will help JICA and the governments of Cambodia

and Japan

to address the serious difficulties that local people face,” said Kay Leak,

advisor of Conservation and Development of Cambodia, which participated in the NGO

survey.

 “I believe that both JICA and the government

of Cambodia

do not want to see the problem happening with resident along the roadside of

NR1.”

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