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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Turmoil among Bassac squatters as eviction begins

Turmoil among Bassac squatters as eviction begins


Heng Chivoan

A Phnom Penh City Hall official takes a break from numbering squatters' houses for eviction.

Tonle Bassac slum villagers were thrown into turmoil on March 23 when the Suor Srun

Enterprises (SSE) called on them to thumbprint their own eviction. Some squatters

have agreed to move, but others are contesting their relocation and will instead

attach their thumbprints to a letter of complaint to send to City Hall.

SSE has claimed ownership of the eight hectares of contested land since 1991. The

company is owned by Oknha Suor Pheng, whose assistant, Khui Chhor, said SSE and community

leaders had agreed on the terms of the removal of the slum dwellers. They will be

relocated to the Dangkor district and each family will receive a plot of land five

by twelve meters.

"I don't think serious problems will happen during the removal," Chhor

said "We took a long time negotiating until we reached agreement, so now we

will evict them as soon as we can."

SSE's lawyer, who declined to be named, said the company had inspected the slum area

to ascertain the exact number of people living on the land and ensure the new land

the company is providing goes to the people who are entitled to it.

"After the villagers are removed they will receive land with a title and live

legally," he said.

Sek Chan, 53, a villager who has been living in the slum since 1993, welcomed the

direct survey conducted by the committee and said it was the only way the company

would get the real number of families. The list held by the community leaders is

incorrect and contains many false names, he said.

"I know some names in the community leaders' lists are ghost names," Chan


The relocation packages being promised by SSE have proved enticing for those who

do not live in the Bassac area, said Brian Rohan, a lawyer for the Community Legal

Education Center of the Human Rights in Cambodia Project.

"Many [of the squatters] have signed documents saying they will leave - and

so some are going through the process of being moved out," he said. "But

the people moving out are not the people who actually live there. There is some fraud,

some confusion regarding documents.

"It seems that people who live elsewhere in Phnom Penh but have some paper link

to the land are obtaining land on the resettlement plot. The people who actually

live there are in a state of great uncertainty and because of their lack of documents

may be ineligible for the relocation scheme."

Sokhom, 64, said the evictions were like sending the people to live in the jungle

and condemning them to starve. He was skeptical about the proposed relocation "packages"

and said he believed the firm will not provide villagers with anything other than

a plot of land.

"I'd rather die here - is better than leaving," Sokhom said. "I don't

believe what the authority and the company promises. They cheat many times already."

And the villagers are right to be wary, Rohan said.

"They [the squatters] are being promised services - for example schools,"

he said. "Based on our experience with other relocation schemes there are serious

questions as to whether they will get the amenities promised."

More than a hundred families have thumb-printed a letter of complaint and will send

it to City Hall to ask for a fair deal. They have accused their community leaders

of conspiring with the company without informing the villagers of their impending


SSE's lawyer said the company would talk to aggrieved villagers and seek to persuade

them to accept relocation packages, but said they had little choice but to comply.

"We believe that the people will accept our company's policy; we don't want

to use the courts," he said. "Our patience is limited."

Many of the Tonle Bassac residents have been living in the area for over a decade

but most have no title to the land and are squatting illegally. This has left them

in a vulnerable position, Rohan said.

"The legal status of the squatters is up in the air," he said. "The

squatters are not in a good position legally."

Pa Socheatevong, vice governor of the Phnom Penh municipality, told the Post on March

22 that as Phnom Penh develops, the villagers in Tonle Bassac slum have to accept

their eviction from privately owned prime real estate as inevitable.

"We do not want to treat them badly, but City Hall has a policy of cleaning

up all slum areas in the city," Socheatevong said. "The people who disagree

to move will struggle with the law. It is a common thing."

For those who rent rather than own their homes in the Bassac squat, things are even


"The company does not have any policy to compensate the house renters,"

Chhor said.

An uncertain future faced Touch Pheap, 46, who has rented her house in the Bassac

since 1999.

"I'm very worried about my life and I really have no idea on where should I

go after they [the company] evict the people here to a new site," she said.

Mea Sopheap, chief of Sangkat Tonle Bassac, told the Post on March 23 that the villagers

in the slum had no land titles because the authorities stopped issuing them once

they learned that the land belonged to SSE.

Sopheap said that in 2000 he signed the recognition books of more than 1,000 families

but explained that if the books were subsequently sold or given to someone else,

they became void.

"Most of the poor residents sold their family books to rich people, now they

are afraid that they will have no place to live so they try to protest," Sopheap

said. "We do not care about the people who bought the family books. What we

are trying to do is to take all the poor people living at the slum to the new site."

Sou Vibol, who is director of Sabbay Sabbay school located in Tonle Bassac squat

and teaches the slum's children, said he was concerned that students will be separated

and stop studying when their families are removed to the new site.

Vibol said Harvest Korea, a Christian missionary organization, which supports the

school, is considering continuing its activities and is looking for a plot of land

on which to build a school at the new site.

"I have visited the area and there is no school or health center nearby so right

now we are considering helping as best we can," Vibol said.



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