With one of their representatives leaving the last standing Borei Keila building yesterday and three more families accepting compensation on Monday, the remaining holdouts in one of Cambodia’s longest-running and highest-profile land disputes say their community is crumbling.
Speaking in front of her apartment with her belongings piled up in the small hallway on the first floor, community representative Ngov Nary said that although she felt the compensation was not entirely fair, it was at least acceptable: She received $16,000 for leaving her apartment at Borei Keila, money with which she bought a nearby fourth-floor apartment.
The land dispute at Borei Keila began when developer Phanimex signed an agreement in 2004 to build 10 apartment buildings to house thousands of families in the area as part of its agreement to develop the area. However, it only followed through with the construction of eight, effectively leaving hundreds of families homeless when their houses were destroyed in 2012.
The majority of those displaced have since grudgingly accepted compensation, but two groups deemed eligible for compensation are still holding out.
But even these two groups are now shrinking. Over the past weeks, two families from the first group – initially comprising 11 families – have accepted compensation, and as of Monday, 24 families from the second group – which originally comprised 30 – have also agreed to go, said community representative Sok Srey On.
For the group of 11 people, Nary had been seen a voice of protest who represented their interests in countless demonstrations. As a construction worker bricked over what was once her window yesterday, Nary maintained that her community understood her decision. Her door had already been transformed into a wall of fresh new bricks – ordered by the municipality to prevent newcomers from moving in, she said.
“I talked to them and told them that everyone has the right to accept money or not,” she said, while adding that she remained concerned about those who weren’t offered suitable solutions.
Other representatives surrounding her as she moved out nodded in agreement.
To make sure those who accepted compensation weren’t replaced by newcomers, five security guards were watching the scene yesterday. One of the guards said his task was to immediately block the door once a family left – for how long, he didn’t know.
One of the families who refused compensation is Dang Kongkea’s. She has lived in Borei Keila since 1997, but when her home was torn down in 2012 she moved to the last remaining building – which is now expected to be destroyed soon. She moved to Siem Reap about two years ago, but had to come back for negotiations as the government had registered her name for her family.
She said she had only been offered $2,000 and a home on the outskirts of the city in Andong village, a compensation she said was not appropriate, maintaining she would need $25,000 for proper compensation.
Kongkea said the difference in compensation that was offered to her and Nary could be explained by Nary’s activism – something she said her community needed and now missed.
“We feel very sad, because she is stronger than us,” she said. “I understand why they want her, because . . . she goes onto the street . . . And now [that] the government took her, we’re not strong anymore, because I somehow cannot go onto the streets. I cannot scream at the government.”
The 35-year old said she didn’t know whether the authorities would increase their offer, “but we all agree that we will stay here”. “We have no choice,” she added.
A government representative on scene, whom residents said worked for the district administration, declined to comment.
Though Kongkea had to miss work in Siem Reap for negotiations, she said she had no idea when the next development would come. “We’re just waiting . . . Every day we are afraid that they are going to remove the building,” she said.
City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey could not be reached yesterday, and Prampi Makara District Governor Lim Sophea hung up on a reporter.
A few doors down, 56-year-old Cheav Sopha stood in front of her door. She said she initially wasn’t offered any compensation, but after two meetings with the municipality they offered her a house at Andong and $2,000 – an offer she had refused. “I’m not afraid or anything. I’m still waiting for compensation,” she said. “If City Hall will destroy the building, I will stay even if I die.”
Like others, she said $20,000 was appropriate compensation.
But not everyone could stand firm. Say Samnang had initially refused compensation because she was offered only one small apartment for her entire family, but she backed down on Monday. “I begged [the district] many times to give me two houses, but they said no. They gave me $2,000 and I have no choice, so I had to accept it,” she said.