Six years ago yesterday, hundreds of residents in Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila neighbourhood were forcibly evicted and saw their homes destroyed in a single day, a grim anniversary that community members – many of them still awaiting compensation – gathered to mark yesterday.
Speaking after a Buddhist ceremony, held behind the vacant building where residents have taken shelter since being evicted, holdouts asked for fair compensation, claiming that the relocation site in the northwest of the city is too remote and the monetary compensation offered to some not high enough.
The city imposed a December 22 deadline on 11 holdout families to either take the offered compensation or forfeit their right to any compensation whatsoever. Twenty other families, whose claims to compensation had previously not been recognised, were also offered compensation – 10 were offered cash and 10 were offered relocation – after the deadline closed. None, however, have accepted.
The building where yesterday’s ceremony was held – surrounded by trash picked over by cats, dogs and chickens – might soon be demolished after 10 years of conflict with development company Phanimex.
Sok Srey On, a representative of the 20 families who had been offered compensation, said she had vivid memories of the community’s violent eviction.
“I always relive the day. During that time I was very frightened about the force with which they demolished our home,” she said. “They did not give us any information that they would take action, but they simply started early in the morning. We lost all our belongings.”
Ngov Nary, a representative of one of the 11 families issued the ultimatum, told a similar tale.
“Early in the morning we went to the market to work and our children went to school. But around 10am, I got a call from our colleague that our home was destroyed. I rushed to my home, but everything was destroyed. I lost everything,” she said.
Srey On said the municipality had only just told them the amount the 10 families who were offered monetary compensation would receive: $3,000. This, she said, was not enough to buy a plot of land, get a flat in the area or live off.
Srey On also alleged that city officials had tried to intimidate the group of 11 families, which she perceived as a threat to herself and other residents. “They threatened that if they don’t accept the resolution then . . . authorities will take armed forces to evict us.”
Long Chandy, a representative of another Phnom Penh community of evictees, also attended the anniversary to express his support. “We request all people in Borei Keila get decent compensation,” he said.
Mean Chhanyada, president of the municipal committee that deals with the case, declined to comment and directed questions to City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey, who could not be reached.
Lim Sophea, Prampi Makara district governor, also could not be reached.
Borei Keila evictee Tim Sak Mony, who was once jailed for more than three months for protesting, said authorities and the company disrespected them. “Why do the local authorities and the company need to evict the poor people to a bad location, and then insult us – the poor people – as brainless?” she said.