Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fears mount for future of iconic Bassac apartments

Fears mount for future of iconic Bassac apartments

Fears mount for future of iconic Bassac apartments

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090127_02.jpg

Bassac apartment residents say Dey Krahorm eviction has raised fresh concerns about prospects for their community

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG

Former Dey Krahorm residents gather Monday outside the National Assembly building where they thumb-printed documents protesting their forced eviction Saturday.

A QUESTION mark hangs over the future of Phnom Penh's iconic Bassac apartmentsfollowing the forced eviction and demolition of the Dey Krahorm community Saturday morning.

The grime-streaked apartment blocks directly overlook Dey Krahorm - now a vacant lot filled with rubbish and twisted metal - and residents say they are worried their community will soon face a similar fate.

"The people at Dey Krahorm were cruelly evicted," said Ly Vannak, 45, who lives in Village 2 at the south end of the building.

"I am worried because I see Dey Krahorm as an example. Phnom Penh municipality and [developer] 7NG might take this building just as they took Dey Krahorm."

Am Sophy, 43, who has been living in the apartments since 1985, said rumours of the building's sale had died down since the 1990s, but that the Dey Krahorm eviction had again raised concerns in the community.

"I am concerned, especially seeing the people at Dey Krahorm evicted. I am concerned that we might be offered such a low price that we could not buy a new house," she said.

Iconic building

Designed in the early 1960s by former municipal town planning director Lu Ban Hap as part of a low-cost social housing project, the 300-metre-long apartment complex is now home to a diverse community of around 2,500 people, many of whom have lived there since settling in the abandoned building as refugees in the 1980s.

But housing rights advocates are also worried that after Saturday's eviction, which brought an end to the long standoff between residents and 7NG, the Bassac residents will be the next to go.

"I'm feeling that after all the forced evictions, many other places are vulnerable," said Yang Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre.

"My analysis is that in line with the repeated statements of the municipality about the beautification of the city ... they will evict [more] people. That has been their justification to date, so I am worried for these people."

David Pred, country director of rights group Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, could not comment on the status of the building, but said that even if an eviction were to be attempted, residents would enjoy protection under the Land Law.

"People have lived and owned those apartments for decades ... and they have land rights like everyone else," he said.

Srey Sothea, the 7NG chairman, said the company had plans to build a "modern commercial centre including hotels and supermarkets" at Dey Krahorm, and had its eye on acquiring the Bassac apartments as a precursor to the development of the now-vacant land. But he added that no plans had yet been set in motion.

"We are also interested in the Bassac apartments, but we have not yet started researching whether the people there are interested in moving to live in another proper place or not," he said.

However, the success of any bid for the buildings will hinge on the legal status of the residents and the land that they occupy. No sources contacted by the Post could confirm whether the building sits on private, state private or state public land, but local authorities are confident the occupation of the buildings is legal.

"[Bassac residents] have no land titles, but they have family books to identify where they legally live," said Village 2 chief Nhem Sovann.

"They live in a legal building, not anarchic buildings like at Dey Krahorm."

Khat Narith, Tonle Bassac commune chief, said that land titles were never issued because the people live in a "community building", and said all residents would have to be paid a fair price for their homes.

"They are not like Dey Krahorm's residents," he said.

"If any company would like to buy [the buildings], that company has to offer people market prices."

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