Twenty-two families who were still protesting their evictions from the Boeung Kak lake area accepted offers from the city today, leaving 10 holdouts remaining more than a decade after the lake was first sold and filled in.
The families, from Village 1, each accepted a 4-by-16-metre plot of land in Village 22, located on the other side of the former lake.
Boeung Kak community leader Chan Puthisak, who was among the 22 who received land titles yesterday, said the win belonged to the villagers.
“We have been negotiating since 2007,” Puthisak said. “If we had not struggled, we would not have gotten it. This is the result of a lot of struggle and a lot of sacrifice. This is the achievement of our hard work.”
The news, announced by officials at Phnom Penh City Hall today, means that the city is close to settling one of the country’s most protracted and high-profile land disputes.
Thousands of families were forcibly evicted from the lake area in the years following its sale in 2007. The evictions spurred years of protests by evictees, drawing the ire of local officials and sparking multiple court cases.
Now, 10 years on, much of the former lake remains a sandy expanse, though high-rises, condos and commercial buildings have begun to take shape.
Read more: Boeung Kak: A disastrous decade
At a press conference, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mean Chanyada said villagers should “get along” with local authorities.
“When brothers and sisters have problems, they should discuss with local authorities rather than making this issue bigger and seeking help from other people who do not solve the problem for you,” Chanyada said, without specifying to whom he was referring. “Brothers and sisters must know how to keep the peace. This is the key point.”
But Soeung Saran, executive director of land rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said the Boeung Kak protesters hadn’t set out to make trouble.
“What they want is a transparent and accountable resolution for them,” Saran said, pointing to the recently demolished White Building as an example of a speedy and peaceful eviction process.
The Boeung Kak resolution “should not have taken such a long time”, he added.
As villagers milled around City Hall with blue-inked thumbs marking the new landowners, 62-year-old Boeung Kak resident Bou Soychhay said that he was relieved to finally feel the land title in his hand.
“We are receiving a plot almost the same size as our previous land,” Soychhay said. “We were scared and worried when we did not have the land title, but now that we have the papers, we are very happy.”
Updated: 7:10am, Thursday 28 December 2017