E ight-year-old Bopha Phong wept
as soldiers and police tore down the wooden shanty hut her family called
The normally shy little girl plucked up the courage to cry out,
"It's not right," as she tearfully watched the security forces looting the few
possessions the family had as they destroyed the shack.
Her father Or
Somoeun returned from his job as a youth leader with the Ministry of Education,
Youth and Sport to find his family devastated and his home, on the dirt track
leading to Boeng Kak lake, in ruins.
The $50 and 110,000 riel he had been
saving under the bed to buy his wife and five young girls somewhere better to
live had been stolen, he said.
But it wasn't just cash that had gone.
Little Bopha told him that the soldiers and police had even taken such mundane
items as pans, mats, a blanket and an ax and his collection of 70
Somoeun, 33, who hasn't been paid his $18-a-month salary since the
start of the year, said: "She has been crying a lot since it happened. I have
given four of the girls to my brother to look after.
"But we are going to
stay here until the government does something to help us." He had been paying
$20 a month rent for a small plot, supplementing his meager government salary by
moonlighting as a moto taxi driver.
Among the ruins of his shack, Somoeun
has driven four stakes into the ground and hung sheets between them to give his
wife and Phong a tiny measure of privacy. He has given his other daughters to
relatives to look after.
The security forces, some heavily armed, pulled
down around 100 shacks along the dirt track leading to the lake amid widespread
allegations of looting.
You Sen, 69, says her husband and four children
were killed by the Khmer Rouge. She is looking after a seven-year-old girl
abandoned by her parents. She is another of the victims of the crackdown on
Sen bravely smiles as she tells how the security forces took
her clothes and 60 kg of rice she had been hoarding as her shack was torn
All she has left are the clothes she stands up in, her charcoal
stove, a mosquito net and her bed.
She says: "There's nowhere else for
me to go I will have to stay here." As she speaks cars roar by carrying the
well-to-do down to Thai restaurants by the lake which will be left untouched
Sen is relying on the charity of her neighbors such as Somoeun to get
enough food to eat. They are among at least a dozen families who have stayed on
after having their homes smashed and like most Boeng Kak residents they are
returnees from the border camps.
Two days after the crackdown along the
dirt track, a loud speaker truck caused more consternation among the rest of the
residents in Boeng Kak area, who number several thousand.
A taped message
told them they too had to dismantle their homes and get out within days.
But for many that would be impossible. Residents have lovingly built
homes which would not look out of place in the West. Some are even made of
bricks and mortar.
Sitting in his neat wooden house Choun Narin, 32,
tells how the loud speaker announcements reduced his eight-months-pregnant wife
Sok Phea to tears.
He said: "This is the same as the Pol Pot time when
people were forced out of their houses on to the street."
Like many of
the Boeng Kak residents, Narin used the skills he learned at the border camps to
get a job with UNTAC.
Then he put his savings from that to buy a plot of
land for $2,000 and spent another $1,000 building the house himself. It boasts
its own toilet, bathroom and kitchen, concrete floor and brick
Father-of-two Narin, who now works as an interpreter for the
charity Christian Outreach, said: "We came here like many returnees because it
was the only place we could afford."
His friend Ouch Sovanna, 34, tells a
similar story. He spent 13 years living in five different camps on the Thai
border before he returned to Cambodia, with his wife. They now have three
Sovanna was able to build an even grander house, which sports a
concrete drive, on an eight by 20 metre plot. He spent $8,000 in the process.
Souvanna, who now works for UNICEF and Australian Aid for Cambodia,
said: "This land had passed through four or five pairs of hands by the time we
bought it. People have been living here for a long time, at least since
"As far as many of us who came here from the camps were concerned
we were buying it legally. The deal was approved by either a khand [district]
official, or a policeman.
"If the government now decides to remove us
they have to give us some compensation."