Five shouting protesters yesterday morning shut down a meeting of the joint committee for housing solutions in Borei Keila before it could sign cash compensation deals with 56 evicted families.
After a long and contentious land dispute, 56 families were set to sign contracts that – depending on the strength of their claim to their former Borei Keila properties – would entitle them to either $3,000 in compensation or a choice between $5,000 in compensation or new homes at a resettlement site.
However, a handful of other former residents who had been offered the latter deal and refused, began to protest shortly after the meeting started.
“I will die here if I do not receive a house in Borei Keila!” screamed Phork Sophin, one of the demonstrators.
Soam Somaly, another former Borei Keila resident, also raised her voice. “It is very unfair! I have enough documents to get a house in Borei Keila but the committee evaluated me to receive the house in Andong community.
I will not go!” Three other women then lifted a banner with a message opposing the committee’s decisions: “We want the solution to be a house in Borei Keila, not in Andong village.”
At that point, those who had turned out to complete their paperwork also began yelling and pushing the women in an effort to thumbprint the committee’s compensation claims documents. The protesters stood their ground and pushed back.
When the tension hit a fever pitch, Mean Chanyada, administration director of City Hall and head of the joint committee, shut down the meeting for of fear of possible violence. He said the event would resume at 9am today at the 7 Makara district hall.
“We could not continue working with problems like this,” said Chanyada.
But the families who agreed to the cash deals, most of whom are garment and electronics factory workers and private company staffers, insisted on a solution yesterday evening as they had asked for only one day off at work.
If they missed another day, their bonus incentives would be lost, they said.
“I asked for only one day off to join the program since I agreed to accept the joint committee’s evaluation,” said Brak Sinat, 33, who works at Nissey Cambodia in Bavet. “If they want to keep protesting, it is their right, but we do not want to protest anymore.”
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, and a member of joint committee, expressed his disappointment about the protesters’ actions.
“We understand their feeling that the committee’s evaluation lacks transparency, but they should not protest against the villagers who decided to accept the evaluation,” he said. “They have the right to file a complaint.”
The five protesters did not say whether they would try to interrupt another meeting.
Among the 56 families that agreed to accept the committee’s evaluation, 40 were set to receive $3,000 for losing their homes. The other 16, who had documents proving their Borei Keila property claims, had been given a choice between $5,000 or new houses in Andong.
A total of 85 families, including the holdouts, were deemed eligible to receive $5,000 or alternative housing, and 40 were eligible to receive $3,000. Only 35 people were ruled eligible to remain in Borei Keila.
On January 3, 2012, police and security forces from the Phanimex company evicted hundreds of families from the Borei Keila area. While 10 apartment buildings were promised to house the displaced, only eight were built, leaving many homeless and living in squalid conditions.
Additional reporting by Igor Kossov