Children playing in the courtyard in the middle of the doomed Preah Monivong hospital community. All the houses, said to be worth between $5,000 and $10,000, will be destroyed.
At 5am on June 29 armed police sealed the area next to Preah Monivong Hospital on
Street 63 just south of Psar Thmei. A demolition team surged in and started dismantling
houses. Thus began the eviction of the 168 families living there.
"Now it's the time for the Ministry of Interior to take the land for development,"
said Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. "I am not saying
that they have been living on the land illegally, but they do live on someone else's
land and now the land owner needs the land back."
Residents will be compensated, Sopheak said, and the government intends to provide
them with a plot of land in the Ang Snoul district. But neither the eviction, nor
the compensation package, are negotiable.
"We will not use force to evict them; we will adhere to the law," he said.
"But the law states that in certain circumstances force can be used. Right now,
we are moving step by step and we will see what happens."
The houses demolished were occupied by police, military police and hospital employees
who had thumbprinted agreements for a compensation deal the authorities offered them.
Other residents have not been offered compensation yet, but have been told they must
be gone by July 5.
The tactics used to reclaim the land and remove the residents have drawn condemnation
from local and international rights groups. The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions
(COHRE), a Geneva-based NGO, issued a statement on June 23 saying it was "gravely
concerned" by the prospect of authorities carrying out an unlawful forced eviction
of the residents living near Preah Monivong hospital.
"This morning they dismantled the house of a policeman who lives in the area,"
said Sok Somaly, 42, a resident of the area. "His wife protested but they continued
to dismantle her home - she was so upset that she fainted. They threatened everyone
in the area, telling them they have to leave by July 5 or they will be forced out."
The community's eviction has loomed since January 2005, when National Police Chief
Hok Lundy established a committee to discuss transferring the land - including the
hospital itself and the nearby United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime - to Kith
Meng's Royal Group. The committee met to find an alternative location for the hospital
and the UNODC.
Sokunthea at Royal Group, who declined to give her full name, said she was unaware
of the deal.
"I am not aware of any dealings between the Royal Group and the Ministry of
Interior about buying or transferring land near the Monivong hospital," she
On February 18, 2005, the chairman of the committee, Deputy National Police Chief
Dol Koeun, announced that the land was to be developed by the Ministry of Interior
and that residents must be out by March 30, 2005.
The eviction stalled, but preparations to relocate the community continued. Pressure
to leave the area intensified in recent weeks after an announcement by Hok Lundy
on June 5 gave residents until July 5 to leave the area or face legal action.
"We have had three letters already this week to tell us to leave," said
Ly Bory, 62.
The community has grown since 1988 when the hospital director allowed hospital employees
to build houses in the area.
The majority of the area's residents have lived there for over 18 years, and during
that time have invested considerable time and money in improving the area. Their
efforts have earned them praise from both Prime Minister Hun Sen and Phnom Penh Governor
Kep Chuktema, Somaly said.
"Hun Sen told us that we are a community, not a slum," she said. "We
have a community fund that residents all contribute towards which we use to pay for
improvements to the area, like new drains."
Residents have two major concerns about the eviction. First, they fear they will
not be given fair compensation, and second, that the land would not be developed
in the public interest but would be sold to a private individual.
"When I heard my family would be evicted I couldn't sleep, I couldn't even eat
- I am so worried we will not get adequate compensation and I won't be able to look
after my family," Bory said. "I need compensation or how can I live elsewhere?
How can I find myself a new home, set up a new business?"
In a July 26, 2005, meeting between Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatevong and
the community's representatives, Socheatevong assured residents that their land would
be used to develop the hospital to international standards. But residents are sceptical
that this is really the government's intention.
"The land is not going to be developed by the state; they have already sold
it to Kith Meng," Somaly said. "I want to appeal to Kith Meng that if he
wants our land he should come and talk to us; the authorities should come and talk
to us - not just use the police to threaten us into leaving."
Compensation has been promised to the residents, but already distinctions have emerged
in the authority's treatment of the community.
"Fifty-three families, who have family members who work for the police, military
police or the hospital, will receive 6m-by-10m plots of land and $1000 for leaving,"
Somaly said. "But for normal people like us, we have not heard anything about
The compensation given to the 53 families of police or hospital employees was dependent
on their thumb-printing an agreement to leave the area.
"The Ministry of Interior called all the police, military police and hospital
employees who live in this area to a meeting and made them promise to sign a piece
of paper accepting the compensation or they would be fired," Somaly said. "Some
were frightened of losing their jobs so they signed - but this has created big family
problems as the wives disagree with accepting the compensation; they don't want to
Policeman's wife Sar Sokhan, 38, said her husband was being detained by the Ministry
of Interior because he refused to thumbprint an agreement to leave.
"My husband and another two policemen have been detained in the Ministry of
Interior for 24 days now," she said. "The purpose of the arrest of my husband
is that they are threatening all the police and military police families to move.
He wouldn't thumbprint the deal."
The community has frantically been appealing to all quarteres for help.
"We sent a letter explaining our concerns over the eviction to the King Father
last week," said Bory. "They sent us rice and 20,000 riel each."