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Secrecy remains as city passes lake plans

PHNOM PENH authorities have approved development plans for a controversial real estate project at Boeung Kak lake, a city official said Sunday, as some observers continued to decry government secrecy surrounding a project that could displace thousands of families.

Mann Chhoeun, the city’s deputy governor, said officials approved plans for the development of Boeung Kak lake during a meeting Thursday – a decision that was reached behind closed doors.

He added that the plan will now be sent to the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), the investment board chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen, which has final say on developments of this scale.

“We strongly believe that [the plan] will be supported and approved by the CDC soon,” said Mann Chhoeun.

“We will change Boeung Kak lake from a dirty and insecure area to become a very wonderful and peaceful area.”

Mann Chhoeun said the 133-hectare development will feature a large business complex as well as supermarkets and skyscrapers complete with modern infrastructure, and that it will provide job opportunities for residents.

Housing advocates, meanwhile, say the plan’s approval is just another example of how authorities have trodden on the rights of an estimated 4,000 families who live in the area and claim the land as their own.

Work on the site is already well under way, even though officials have refused to publicly release full development plans. Authorities have already moved more than 1,000 families from the area, and workers have filled in a portion of the lake with sand.

“Since no development plan has ever been released and nobody has been consulted, the government has not demonstrated that the project is in the public interest,” said David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia.

Although officials have said that the takeover of the area is legal because it is state land, Pred said that the government has contravened a slew of laws in proceeding with the project, and emphasised that residents should be consulted.

“The development plan should be submitted to the affected residents for comment before it is submitted to the CDC,” Pred said. “Otherwise, this project will be trampling on people’s rights.”

Affected villagers said they plan to air their grievances during a protest in front of City Hall today.

Boeung Kak resident Ing Navy said villagers will demand ownership rights that city officials have so far refused to extend to them.

“We need land titles from the authorities,” she said, adding that villagers were particularly concerned after some had seen copies of a graphic depicting the development plan.

The graphic, which was published in the Post last week, showed skyscrapers and villas on the edges of two smaller lakes and a stream.

It also appeared to show that the development would completely build over existing settlements.

“We are worried because the plan is covering all the homes on our land,” she said.

The city and remaining villagers are effectively locked in a stalemate, with the residents saying that an offer of US$8,500 in compensation from authorities is unacceptable.

Secrecy has surrounded the Boeung Kak lake development since authorities in 2007 awarded a 99-year lease for the land to Shukaku Inc, a company headed by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin.

Authorities have rarely released details on the size and scale of the project, and only this year showed residents a map detailing the outer edges of the development.

Details about the project’s financing have also remained shrouded. Earlier this year, the Post reported that Chinese companies have been involved. Chinese news media reported the project’s total cost to be around US$1.5 billion.

Youn Heng, the project director of the Evaluation and Incentive Department of the Cambodian Investment Board, which acts as the CDC’s operational arm, said Sunday that he has yet to see the development plan.

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