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As deadline passes, Borei Keila residents reject final offer

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An exterior view of one of the dilapidated buildings occupied by Borei Keila residents awaiting compensation from Phnom Penh City Hall. Hong Menea

As deadline passes, Borei Keila residents reject final offer

A deadline for a group of Borei Keila residents to accept compensation or leave their homes with nothing passed on Friday, with none of the residents agreeing to move to a resettlement site, and authorities saying they have no right to remain, but with no details as to what actions will be taken next.

The land dispute began in 2007 when the area close to Olympic Stadium was handed over for development to the company Phanimex. The company agreed to build 10 apartment blocks for evicted residents but only built eight, leaving out hundreds of residents. Since then, most residents found to have legitimate land titles have been offered compensation in an outlying area of the city called Andong village, but 11 of those families say the location is unacceptable and have refused to leave. Twenty more were offered compensation last week, leaving 10 families potentially facing eviction with no recourse.

In a letter issued earlier this month by City Hall, refusal to accept compensation would mean residents would receive nothing and face “administrative measures”. The families say the relocation site is remote and lacks a market, school and access to job opportunities.

Villager Ngov Nary said the remaining families had split into two groups: one to protest in front of Phanimex owner Suy Sophan’s house every day, and the other to protect their building should authorities come to tear it down.

“Until today the local police have not come, but we are still concerned because we did not yet accept the compensation,” she said.

Sophan, the company’s owner, could not be reached yesterday, but has previously denied any further responsibility to compensate holdouts.

Community representative Sar Sorn said that the district governor asked each family for a letter either accepting or refusing the compensation. She said that although they did not accept the offered compensation they had not waived their right to it.

“We need to protect our land, because this land is ours,” she said.

A letter addressed to the 11 families originally offered compensation asks them to meet with the district governor to find a solution today – a step that Vann Sophat, a coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights who has worked with affected Borei Keila residents, saw as “good news”.

However, he stressed that potential developments were unclear. “We are not sure what will happen next,” he said.

“It seems like the municipality is considering . . . whether they should keep their stance to take administrative measures or whether to continue negotiations.”

City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey, however, said the deadline had passed for them. “They decided to throw their right to receive compensation away,” he said.

According to an announcement glued to the complex’s wall over the weekend and signed by District Governor Lem Sophea, Commune Chief Keo Sakol and Phanimex owner Sophan, an additional 30 families were considered for compensation, though 10 were found to have no claim.

Ten of the families who were awarded compensation were promised relocation in Andong village, while the other 10 were promised an unspecified monetary compensation. Measpheakdey was unsure of the amount, which he said lay in the hands of city’s land dispute resolution committee. The committee’s president, Mean Chanyada, declined to comment.

One representative of the 30 families not previously offered compensation, Sok Srey On, said she had lived in Borei Keila since 1987 and had to move several times when her homes were torn down or she was kicked out.

Nonetheless, the 48-year old said she had never protested, as many of her fellow residents did, and had instead filed petitions to the Land Management Ministry and municipality to receive compensation. Now, however, she might start protesting against unjust compensation.

“The evaluation is unjust for our group. We will not accept this evaluation, and we plan to protest against this,” she said, adding that she was also invited to today’s meeting.

Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski

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