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