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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Squatters resist park rehab

Squatters resist park rehab

The rehabilitation of the park across the street from the National Assembly is

being resisted by the squatters who live there and the opposition Sam Rainsy

Party.

Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay told the Post he

believes the dirt was intended to make the park "unlivable," as the site has

been a place for demonstrations by villagers who have traveled from rural areas

to protest land disputes.

The government maintains that the soil is only

being stored there temporarily ahead of its use to re-sod the park.

"To

beautify the park they do not need so much soil," Chhay said. "These piles mean

there is no way people can use it for shelter."

Chhay believes that

preventing people from staying in the park will create more problems as

protesters will be forced to camp in more public areas.

"You're not going

to stop this (the protests) unless the public servants start serving the

people," Chhay said. "They abuse people, rob people - they're so corrupt, so you

will see more and more people coming to protest."

Ly Vutha, 36, has lived

in the park with his wife since 1997. He said the piles have made life difficult

for the 10 families that have been living in the park and subsist as scavengers

and scrap collectors.

"When they dump the dirt, it makes it very

difficult for us to live," Vutha said. "My wife and I do not know where to live

besides this place, because in the province we do not have land to build a house

or land to farm. We live here because we have no choice."

Just days ago,

Vutha's 4-day-old daughter died of fever. The mounds of dirt that were dumped at

the onset of the rainy season have forced many families to leave the shelter of

the trees as their campsites have disappeared.

Sim Sor, 33, says she has

lived in the park since the "Banyan trees were small" - what she estimates to be

around 20 years. She and her husband, who met here in the park, also make a

living as scrap collectors.

Authorities say that once the soil is used

to make the new "garden," no one will be allowed to live there.

"We plan

to finish renovating the garden in time for the inaugurating of the new National

Assembly building, which will be held on July 7 this year," said Pa Socheatvong,

deputy governor of Phnom Penh Municipal. "The stupa of the people who died

during the grenade attack in 1997 will be kept the same."

Ou Virak,

president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, suggested the park should

still be available for use by demonstrators.

"Developing the garden does

not affect the right of people in protesting," he said, "but threatening and

spreading military police to curb citizens from protesting is what impacts their

rights."

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