Nearly 20 families from the Borei Keila neighbourhood in the capital’s Prampi Makara district protested on Wednesday after the authorities brought two bulldozers that the families claim will be used to demolish the vacant buildings where they have taken shelter since being evicted in 2012.
The protesters were among hundreds of families who were evicted in January 2012 to make way for a large-scale construction project overseen by Phanimex, a development company owned by prominent tycoon Suy Sophan.
The families are demanding compensation to end the matter, while a civil society organisation has urged the authorities to find a peaceful solution.
The families’ representative Taing Kim Sroy said the Phnom Penh municipal authorities had, on Sunday, sent two bulldozers and 30 police officers in preparation to destroy buildings under dispute by 14 families.
Five other families that have received compensation also came to stop the bulldozers because they say the amount they have been given is insufficient. They had requested between $30,000 and $400,000.
Kim Sroy said the company has persecuted the families for nearly 10 years, driving their living standards down until some of them had been reduced to beggars.
They have been forced to sleep on pavements, she said, and some have resorted to prostitution. “If the company or the government does not offer us proper compensation, we will not allow our buildings to be bulldozed.
“We would rather die in the buildings because we have nowhere else to stay,” Kim Sroy said.
She said some time ago, the municipal authorities had called in the remaining residents for talks. But the authorities had failed to meet their demands or offer a compromise and only said they would contact them at a later date.
Another evicted resident, Toem Sak Mony, who remains homeless, said they had not refused compensation, but the $3,000 to $4,000 provided by the authorities was not enough to buy land or a house.
“We will not leave our houses. If security forces come, let them come and kill us all. If they want to have the buildings, why don’t they buy them at the market price? Why evict us forcibly?
“If the company does bulldoze the buildings, we are determined to let the world know about the wicked acts of the company, and the authorities too,” she said.
Sak Mony said the Borei Keila site was sold by Phanimex to a local company, but now the land had been sold to two companies, one Chinese and one Taiwanese.
She said the two companies were excavating soil and laying a foundation to construct buildings behind the old Borei Keila buildings.
Phnom Penh deputy municipal governor Mean Chanyada declined to comment on Wednesday and referred questions to municipal hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey.
The Post was unable to contact either Pheakdey or Prampi Makara district governor Lim Sophea.
However, a police officer who patrols the area said on the condition of anonymity that the bulldozers were ready to demolish the buildings whenever the order is given, but because of the ongoing tension, plans had been suspended for now.
“I don’t know exactly when I have to bulldoze the buildings because I’m waiting for the order from the top. So, I don’t know at all,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at human rights organisation Licadho, said the authorities had tried and failed to solve the Borei Keila conflict and he did not want to see any physical violence.
“Using violence to solve the land dispute instead of finding a peaceful resolution is not at all desirable, so we would like both sides to solve it peacefully and find an agreeable resolution,” he said.