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.
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
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
"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.