Residents of embattled community say developer Phanimex conned them into signing away land that was promised to them.
Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A 17-year-old Borei Keila resident who identified himself only as Pros stands near a newly installed ground-floor fence Sunday.
ABOUT 100 armed police officers forced vendors from their stalls below Phnom Penh's Borei Keila apartment complex on Saturday, local residents said.
"[Phanimex] took police and forced us from the ground floor while we were running our small businesses," said Chea Ying, a Borei Keila fruit vendor, referring to the private developer.
"They didn't tell us anything except that the company needed to develop it as a market with parking spaces."
Chhum Sivaneth, a Borei Keila resident, said, "They took over people's land and will construct a market and rent it to other people. It is not justice for us."
Residents said they would protest in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen's house today in hopes that the premier will come to their aid.
"We will go protest in front of the Prime Minister's house to ask him for help because the development company used police with guns to force us outside the building," Chhum Sinaveth said.
In December 2008, the commune chief collected 1,257 thumbprints on a document pertaining to the construction of ground-floor stalls. Residents claim to have been tricked, saying they thought the agreement required Phanimex to build stalls for the community. Instead, residents say, they were duped into signing a contract allowing Phanimex to construct shops to rent to people outside the community.
Chan Soveth, an Adhoc monitor, said developing the area underneath the Borei Keila apartments could benefit Borei Keila as long as existing tenants could afford the stalls.
"It's good that they develop it, but they should give a chance for people in this community to do business," he said. "They should be able to rent the stalls at a cheaper price that residents can accept."
Chea Ying said she was told Phanimex would charge US$15 a month per stall.
According to a June 9 letter released by Prampi Makara District Governor Som Sovann, the district authorities ordered all vendors under the apartments to leave by June 16 and said that Phanimex had the right to develop the area for parking spaces and a market.
Borei Keila was once hailed as a progressive alternative to evictions. In 2003, Hun Sen signed a deal giving free, on-site apartments to the 1,776 families living on the 15-hectare plot of land near Olympic Stadium. In return, Phanimex was given the right to build for-profit apartments in addition to ones for displaced residents.
But recently, the Borei Keila community has been beset with conflict, notably with an eviction last month in which an HIV/AIDS community was sent to Tuol Sambo, a community located far from vital health services.
Keo Sakal, the Veal Vong commune chief who residents say ordered Saturday's action, said he was too busy "throwing a house-warming party" to comment Sunday.