Four families who were violently evicted from Borei Keila in January last year built shelters yesterday in the rubbish where their houses once stood, claiming the land still belonged to them.
The evictees erected small frames on the land, in the capital’s Prampi Makara district, irritating Suy Sophan, the owner of Borei Keila developer Phan Imex, who accused them of trespassing.
“I will call them to give advice – get off my land,” she said.
“If they do not follow this advice, I will file a lawsuit against them.”
As of late yesterday, however, the villagers remained at the site, as did their shelter and a growing number of supporters.
Villager Sar Sorn said she had built on the exact spot where her house had been demolished during last year’s violent eviction, after moving out of her niece’s house at Borei Keila, where she had lived since.
“On Sunday, I stayed in an old building that belongs to Phan Imex, but the company security guards did not allow me to stay and seized my rice, property and one million riel [$250],” she said.
“They did not return my stuff. This morning, I decided to build shelter on my property from which I was evicted without compensation.”
Fellow evictee Sou Im, 57, said desperation had driven her to seek shelter on her old land.
“Now I have no choice. I can’t afford to rent a house anymore while I wait for a solution,” she said, adding that she feared municipal authorities and company security guards would crack down on her group.
Phan Imex, backed by municipal authorities, evicted about 300 families from Borei Keila on January 3 last year, ordering them to remote housing sites out of the city.
As part of a land swap deal inked in 2004, the company was contracted to build 10 high-rise apartment blocks for 1,776 families at Borei Keila, in exchange for their adjacent land, but finished only eight, leaving hundreds homeless.
The four families who built the shelter yesterday were closely watched by security officials who refused to speak to reporters.
Dy Sokdeoun, a commune security official, said the villagers should leave the land if they did not want to deal with authorities and another “company crackdown”.
“They should be patient and wait for a solution to avoid being charged for building shelter on the company’s land,” he said.
Yesterday’s scenes resembled those that preceded the arrest of 13 women at Boeung Kak lake last May, when evictees tried to rebuild their demolished homes.
Days later, the women — who maintain they were observers to that incident — were sentenced to more than two years in prison but were released on appeal.
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said yesterday’s rebuilding was a sign of desperation by the families rather than a publicity stunt.
“I understand the people are trying to rebuild for shelter. They’re waiting for a solution.
“Since the eviction of January 3 [last year], the [Phnom Penh] municipal authority has told people to wait.
“But where can they wait? They have no shelter.”
It seemed inevitable that authorities would crack down on the villagers if they remained on the land, Phearum said.
“It would be easy for the authority to use the same strategy as the Boeung Kak women. When the powerful and rich want to take action, it’s easy to put poor people in jail.”
With assistance from Shane Worrell