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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Squatters desert remote new site to return to Bassac

Squatters desert remote new site to return to Bassac

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Their houses demolished, the remaining Bassac squatters hold out in makeshift shelters. In stark contrast the new National Assembly building and Naga Casino stand in the distance beyond.

S

ome squatter families from the Tonle Bassac area's Village 14 who were recently

resettled in a relocation site outside Phnom Penh have returned, saying they cannot

support their families at the new location.

Community leaders are also claiming that hundreds of people from various provinces

are masquerading as former renters at Tonle Bassac in a bid to get a plot of land

at the relocation site.

A villager named Chan, who had volunteered to leave the slum, also known as Sambok

Chab, had since returned to the site. He said it was difficult to live at the relocation

site and he could not make a living as he had done at the Tonle Bassac site. Some

of villagers had already sold their land at the relocation site.

"I will die if I live there," Chan said. "It is too far from the city."

Meanwhile the eviction has drawn the scrutiny of local and internationl human rights

groups and prompted Anselmo Lee, executive director of Asian Forum for Human Rights

and Development, to urge action from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"It is troubling to see over 3,000 people, including children and women, suffering

from the lack of basic facilities, and their pains have been increasing every day,"

Lee wrote in an open letter to UNHCHR head Louise Arbour, who is in presently in

Phnom Penh. "The response of the UN office and international community has been

slow and that had made us even more worried."

Chin Sarith, deputy chief of Village 14, said about 50 of the families who were removed

had returned and were pretending to be renters again in order to get another plot

of land. Hundreds of people from outside had also come to stay with the renters.

Of the original 1,200 families at the Tonle Bassac site, only 300 were officially

listed as renting while the rest were homeowners, Sarith said.

Sarith said authorities are investigating those suspected of falsely claiming to

be renters, and have discovered more than 500 families who are not original residents.

The authorities have removed these people.

"There was a ringleader who provoked them to come. Right now we have ousted

more than 500 families who we identified as not being local residents," Sarith

said. "It is a headache for the authorities."

Khui Chhor, assistant to Suor Srun Enterprises (SSE) owner Suor Pheng, said that

more than 1,000 families had volunteered to leave so far, but the company has had

difficulties with new people coming in from other areas and pretending to be house

renters.

Increasing numbers of people are attempting to come in, while authorities continue

to investigate and expel them.

"The real number of house renters is only about 300 families, but now you can

see more than a thousand families," Chhor said. "We are leaving it to City

Hall to make measurements."

SSE had prepared more than 1,700 plots of land at Trapang Krasang commune in Dangkor

district some 25km west of Phnom Penh, in order to provide for the 1,216 families

from Tonle Bassac slum. Each family received a 5-by-12-meter plot, and SSE contracted

the work of arranging the plots to Hor Kim Long Construction Company.

Ny Chakrya, head of monitoring at local human rights NGO Adhoc, said the authorities

should solve the problems for the house renters first as they do not have accommodation.

Many who owned houses at the Tonle Bassac site did not actually live in the slum

area.

"If there is a proper deal the problem will not happen," Chakrya said.

"The NGO community wanted to assist the villagers but were prevented by authorities;

that is the problem."

Adviser Hallam Goad of another local NGO, Teang Tnaut Association, said fair, well-organized

relocations had happened in the past but the authorities in charge of the Bassac

removals were not following those examples.

"Millions of dollars have been gained on the back of these relocations and in

return these families have been moved to ever more distant, low-lying sites furnished

with half-built schools and markets - at best.

"There is money available [to help villagers] from these land acquisitions and

small amounts from donors and the government; there is planning assistance available

from NGOs - all that is required is a political commitment that requires developers

to follow some basic guidelines."

Saing Sarith, a villager who refused to leave among 100 other families, said the

relocation site has no economic resources and they are still waiting to negotiate

with authorities and SSE for a fair deal.

Sarith said the development at the relocation site will take at least one or two

years. Many families who volunteered to leave have come back because they cannot

earn a living.

"Even if they force me to leave I will still refuse," Sarith said. "It

would be better to die here; we are human beings, not animals. I am not afraid if

they burn or bulldoze my house or treat my family badly."

More than 1,000 cottages in the slum site were dismantled within two weeks and tall

steel fences were erected, stretching from the new National Assembly building to

behind the Russian Embassy. Only a small gate at the front is open for entry and

exit. On May 8 and 9 the gate was closed, and electricity and water were cut off,

but after strong protests from the residents the gate was reopened.

Chhor denied the company had cut off electricity and water, saying there was a dealer

inside the slum selling these utilities, but once the dealer relocated to the new

site, the services stopped.

Phnom Penh municipality deputy governors Mann Chhoeun and Pa Socheatevong, who are

in charge of resident removal, could not be contacted and governor Kep Chuktema said

he was busy in a meeting.

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