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‘SOS’ to PM this time

The airport community who face eviction to make way for the expansion of Phnom Penh International Airport paint ‘SOS’ on their rooftops
The airport community who face eviction to make way for the expansion of Phnom Penh International Airport paint ‘SOS’ on their rooftops yesterday, leading to the arrest of eight members. Heng Chivoan

‘SOS’ to PM this time

Villagers faced with losing their homes to the planned expansion of the Phnom Penh International Airport used a tried-and-tested method yesterday of attracting attention to their plight, sending their second “SOS” in two years.

In November 2012, families who had been told their homes would be demolished to make way for an airport “buffer zone” welcomed US President Barack Obama to town for the ASEAN Summit by painting “SOS” on their roofs in a plea for international intervention.

The move landed eight of them in jail. But two years on, they are undeterred.

As Prime Minister Hun Sen departed for the ASEAN summit in Myanmar yesterday morning, the villagers made sure their roofs were adorned with photographs of the premier, his wife Bun Rany, and the same spray-painted “SOS” message offered to Obama.

Community representative Chhray Nim said the method was the same, but the message was different.

With Prime Minister Hun Sen’s return to Cambodia yesterday evening, the airport community around Phnom Penh airport paint ‘SOS’ signs on their rooftops with images of Hun Sen and his wife.
With Prime Minister Hun Sen’s return to Cambodia yesterday evening, the airport community around Phnom Penh airport paint ‘SOS’ signs on their rooftops with images of Hun Sen and his wife. Heng Chivoan

Today, “our message is to ask for intervention from the government to offer us [adequate] compensation and land certificates for the land that we own” after the development.

Like 2012, yesterday’s campaign attracted some unwanted attention.

“Posters and messages on a house’s roof like this have a negative impact on the environment around the airport perimeter and on national dignity,” said Hem Darith, Por Sen Chey district deputy governor.

Orders from local police to dismantle posters and paint over messages were ignored.

But at about 3:30pm, Por Sen Chey district security guards gathered posters and painted over the “SOS” on one house’s roof. Three other homes displaying the messages refused to let the guards intervene, according to Long Kimheang, communications officer at the Housing Rights Tack Force.

Tem Sareivouth, general manager at Green Goal, the company tasked with conducting a census of the area to establish compensation offers, said 25 plots of land still need to be measured.

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