A collection of houses and other structures belonging to nine families living alongside a canal in the capital’s Russey Keo district was destroyed yesterday by a large group of men sent by local authorities.
The Beung Salang villagers had been previously told to vacate a zone within 15-20 metres of the 3-kilometre-long Bak Touk canal to make way for a dredging project City Hall plans to undertake, district officials said.
The 30-man operation, which involved an excavator and chainsaws, destroyed more than one dwelling along with an outhouse, a henhouse and other sections of villagers’ homes.
Villager Sek Sokha, who said that an excavator had destroyed his father-in-law’s house, said they were not given a chance to discuss the order to relocate their property prior to the demolition.
“We tried to ask the authorities about the issue, but nothing was clearly explained,” he said, adding that many villagers had lived near the canal since 1987, a claim echoed by others at the site yesterday.
But Deputy District Governor Chea Pisey said commune and district authorities had invited the villagers to discuss the canal development no fewer than five times, with the villagers simply refusing to move.
“This canal is being dredged to deviate water from Phnom Penh in order to avoid floods. We are also building roads on both sides of the canal to ease traffic from Phnom Penh and to beautify the city,” Pisey said.
“If it is not renovated, some parts of Phnom Penh may be flooded. Dredging is . . . for all people in the capital.”
Pisey added that land ownership documents presented by the villagers did not include land within 15 metres of the canal. More than 300 people had agreed to voluntarily leave canal-side areas prior to yesterday’s demolition, Pisey said, adding that they had made a formal announcement in the district hall ordering villagers to leave the canal zone on January 12.
Kit Touch, a senior official from human rights NGO the Community Legal Education Center, said the demolition reflected an imbalance in the enforcement of the law upon the rich and poor.
“It is a bad precedent that the law is enforced against weak and defenceless people. The cause of flooding in Phnom Penh is that private companies have filled the lakes, but there is no law enforcement on them. Only the simple people,” he said, referring to the evictions around Boeung Kak lake as it was filled in with sand in 2010.