AS city officials broke ground at the controversial Boeung Kak lake development project yesterday, Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema said the government had similar plans for Boeung Tompon and other lakes throughout the capital.
The comments raised the prospect that further mass evictions may be in store for city residents, with the Boeung Kak development already set to displace roughly 20,000 people, according to local rights groups.
The Boeung Tompun lake area borders Boeung Choueng Ek lake and covers roughly 2,600 hectares of land, including 520 hectares of surface water, in Meanchey district. It serves as one of the capital’s largest holding sites for sewage water.
Villagers say roughly 700 families live on the lake or near the shoreline.
Despite the local and international condemnation that has dogged the Boeung Kak lake development, where thousands have been forced from their homes without proper compensation, Kep Chuktema said yesterday that the city was preparing to repeat the process at Boeung Tompun and elsewhere.
“In Phnom Penh, there are a number of lakes, particularly the giant lake, Boeung Tompun. We will have to develop Boeung Tompun,” Kep Chuktema said.
He acknowledged problems that have dogged government-ordered evictions in recent years but called such issues an inevitable aspect of “development”.
“We depend on the companies, which the government has determined will be the heads of the train that pulls Cambodia’s economy,” he said.
“Development is followed by problems, but we will resolve the problems in accordance with the procedure of existing laws in the Kingdom,” he added.
During a speech in June of 2009, Kep Chuktema declared that the government had approved a joint-venture project between unnamed local and foreign firms to develop Boeung Tompun as a “satellite city”.
Officials from the Council for the Development of Cambodia declined to comment on the proposal at the time and no details about the project have emerged in the two years since.
Villagers living on the lake said yesterday that hundreds of families living on or around the lake were worried about their potential displacement.
“We haven’t been officially informed about anything yet, but we are concerned by rumours that have spread that about 700 families in the village will be impacted by development projects,” 71-year-old Khim Sary said.
Chhorn Broh, 51, said he and other villagers were concerned that their potential eviction could follow the path of Boeung Kak.
“We are not opposed to the government’s development projects, but the compensation has to be appropriate for us to buy land and build new houses,” he said.
Meanchey district governor Kuch Chamroeun and Boeung Tompun commune chief Sous Sarin denied that any villagers lived on the lake and said none would be displaced if a development project was indeed implemented in the area. The officials said they were unaware of any development plan or the site.
“If there is a development plan that happens at the lake, I don’t think there will be any impact because they aren’t any people living on the lake,” Sous Sarin said.
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of local NGO Housing Rights Task Force, said mass fill-ins of local lakes could affect drainage in the capital. He also called on the government to improve the resettlement process so that the problems at Boeung Kak are not repeated.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE AND KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA