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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN offers moral support to defiant Koh Pich villagers

UN offers moral support to defiant Koh Pich villagers

Every day armed military police officers tell Chum Sameun to move from his home of

25 years.

While the MPs say they are acting on orders from the Phnom Penh municipality to protect

land City Hall has bought on Koh Pich, residents see them as crude intimidation.

Three months ago, military police set up two stations on Koh Pich, one on the southern

tip of the sought-after island and one on the northern stretch, among Sameun's rows

of eggplants and shrubs.

Their presence is part of an effort to evict Koh Pich residents, in order for development

company 7NG to buy the land at prices approximately a tenth of market value.

On July 30, yet another eviction deadline came and went for the 26 families remaining

on the fertile island, with the municipal Vice Governor Pa So Chuteveang giving residents

an extra three days to accept the compensation offered or face the courts.

Koh Pich farmers were given a boost August 23, however, by a visit from Miloon Kothari,

the Special Representative to the UN Secretary General on the Right to Adequate Housing,

as part of his 10-day tour of Cambodia.

"My impression is you have a very strong legal case," Kothari said, after

listening to the villagers for an hour. "The question is just this: Can we expect

the law to be followed in this country?"

Evicting Koh Pich residents without proper compensation, in order to make way for

investors, would seriously interfere with international law, he said.

"And what are the military police doing here? I can not see how the presence

of the MP's could possibly be in order," Kothari said.

Staff of the Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project (PILAP), which is representing

the residents, have reported intoxicated military police officers being abusive towards

PILAP employees when they visit the island.

Thol Sokun, a Koh Pich resident since 1993, said the soldiers have cut off the electricity,

seized several of the villagers' boats and threatened to burn down his house.

Sokun said he has no intention of leaving.

"Today, people only leave the island when they are forced to, because they have

been threatened with violence and are afraid of what might happen to them if they

stay", Sokun said.

He said the major problem with the eviction notice is that nobody has been told why

they have to leave, which law covers their eviction, or what might happen to Koh

Pich once they are gone.

"The government is like our father, and we have to respect our father ... but

so far they have given us no good reason as to why we have to go," Sokun said.

Residents have filed an official complaint with the City Hall, and written a letter

to King Norodom Sihamoni, but fear they will eventually be evicted.

Kothari is scheduled to meet with Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema September

1 to discuss the Koh Pich case.

Before he left the island, Kothari assured locals of his commitment to the Koh Pich


"Your struggle is very important to us", he said. "Please remain firm

and strong."



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