A resident of Tonle Bassac's Village 14 sits among the debris of her dismantled house on a truck ready to move the 25 km to Dangkor. The relocation of 1,200 families entered its final stages on May 4.
he Tonle Bassac squatters' fight against eviction by Suor Srun Enterprises (SSE)
entered its final stages as more than 50 policemen armed with guns, electric batons
and protective shields descended on the area on May 4.
Headed by Lay Bunthoeun, deputy chief of staff of Phnom Penh municipal police, authorities
were present to protect squatters who had agreed to relocate and were helping with
the dismantling of the slum. SSE hired 100 workers to dismantle squats in the Tonle
Bassac and move them to the relocation site, said Khui Chhor, assistant to SSE owner
But Human Rights groups remain apprehensive about the eviction. Some are citing the
lack of amenities at the resettlement area in Dangkor - some 25 km from the Bassac
squat - as a major cause for concern.
Ny Chakrya, investigative monitor for Adhoc, argued that authorities should have
prepared the new site at least one year before relocating the squatters.
"How can they live with nothing?" Chakrya said. "The authorities should
have arranged everything before they evict the villagers."
Since March 3, SSE has relocated over 100 of the 1,216 families who inhabit the Tonle
Bassac. Each family has been given a 5-meter-by-12-meter plot of land.
But the concern of rights groups is that the few final families who refuse to relocate
will be removed by force, said Chuon Chamrong, land issue officer for Adhoc.
It appears that officials are stepping up their efforts to remove the squatters,
said Ou Virak, spokesman for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) who visited
the slum on March 3. Authorities were threatening the villagers and throwing away
their food in an attempt to encourage their rapid departure, he said.
"At night many people do not even have tents or mats to sleep on," Virak
said. "I'm very worried about the children's health."
Licadho officials on May 3 took tents and other materials to the squat but were prevented
from distributing them by authorities.
Many of the residents of Tonle Bassac, known as Village 14 and nicknamed Sambok Chab
(Bird's Nest), have been living in the area for more than a decade; some have no
title to the land and many are squatting illegally.
In 1998, the village caught fire and more than 1,000 houses were destroyed. At the
time SSE provided 10-hectare plots of land in Sangkat Prey Sar, Dangkor district,
to the homeless squatters. But they returned to the site just months later claiming
they could not earn a living so far from the main city.
Ho Vann, Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian for Phnom Penh, said the government and
SSE should consider developing only five hectares of the land at the slum, and turn
over the other two hectares to the squatters. This would allow them to remain in
the area and would ensure they did not lose their livelihoods as well as homes, he
Kem Sokha, president of the CCHR, said the government should establish a committee
to ensure the matter was dealt with in a proper way. He offered his help, claiming
he would talk to the head of government and to SSE.
Sam Rainsy, president of the Sam Rainsy Party, visited the villagers at Tonle Bassac
on March 3 and wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting intervention. He suggested
the removal be delayed until the resettlement site had been adequately developed.
The new site in Dangkor district has been prepared by SSE to accommodate more than
1,000 families. The market and school are over 90 percent finished, and clean water
and electricity are set up but not connected, said Khui Chhor.
People who have been removed to the resettlement site have received 40,000 riel,
rice, plastic tarps and other building materials, he said. According to Chhor, the
company has a policy of providing new land to all official slum residents being relocated.
He said the people protesting their eviction were troublemakers, not residents.
"The protesters do not live in the Tonle Bassac," said Chhor. "We
have much experience with them - they want to cause trouble for our company."
According to the International Cooperation for Research and Social Education, 474
families living on the Tonle Bassac rent their houses.
These renters did not receive land on the relocation site and are demanding plots
of land of their own and that Hun Sen intervene on their behalf.
"The majority of the people volunteered to leave; only a fraction of families
disagreed," said Ouch Sokhon, Chamkarmon police chief. "What we are doing
now is trying to make it easy for those who are leaving."
Mann Chhoeun, deputy governor of Phnom Penh municipality, said the first step authorities
are taking is to ensure the people who volunteered to move were looked after. Those
who protested would be addressed later. However, he emphasized that SSE had the right
to evict them as they were illegally squatting on private land.
"We do not care about the protesters," he said. "We are concerned
about people who rent their houses here and who will lose them when evicted. So I
have talked with the SSE and they have agreed to provide plots of land to those who
have been renting their houses too."