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Floating village threatened

Floating village threatened

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Local officials are trying to get rid of Pursat's floating community, but residents say they will simply float further out onto the lake to avoid eviction

Photo by: RICK VALENZUELA

Young residents of Kampong Luong village in Pursat enjoy the boating life on Monday.

Pursat Province

KAMPONG Luong Village is different from other places. It has no fixed address, it is prone to rapid fluctuations in altitude and it floats upon water. Here the daily sounds are of splashing oars and the smells are a distinct mix of water weed, wet wood and family life - all played out on the surface of the great Tonle Sap.

But this unique commune of 1,000 residents, located just 42km from Pursat town, is steadily moving further from land as it seeks to escape a government decree ordering its closure and forced eviction.

"I would rather die than move," said Ros Sareum, 43, a life-long inhabitant of Kampong Luong.

"We have no businesses to run elsewhere so how can we move? Here ... at least we have fish to feed ourselves," she said.

"If the plan goes through and the authorities come to force me, I will move out to the centre of the lake."

Ros Sareum is not alone in her rebellious plans, and many in the village are preparing to oppose the forced eviction.

"Fishing sustains our life," said 31-year-old Song Lisro. "If we are forced to move, our lives will deteriorate because we don't know how else to earn money other than  by fishing."

If the plan goes through... I will move out to the centre of the lake.

Krakor district Governor Ly Ponn was unclear as to why the village needed to be dismantled, but said not all of those living there will be moved. Only those living closest to the road during the rainy season, their houses half in and out of the water, needed to leave.

"For the people who live on the lake, we will still allow them to live there. People who live along both sides of the road we will move; we don't know when," he said, adding that only about 250 people will be subject to eviction.

"Their houses are too small, too old and at risk of floods.... Concerning their health, we have provided a clean water tank, but if they choose not to use it, that is their decision," he said.

Despite their reluctance to leave, life is hard for the families at Kampong Leung.

While the village boasts facilities such as a medical center, restaurants, schools, karaoke bars and three places of worship, there is no high school in the area and children are only educated to the fifth grade, leaving class at 11 years old.

Residents - particularly children - regularly fall sick with cold, flu and diarrhoea, as well as more severe illnesses such as dysentery from contaminated water. Not all families boil the water they collect from the lake, which is used by everyone for cooking, washing and going to the toilet.

Koe Sovanareth, chief of Kampong Luong commune, said the mixed population of 50 percent Vietnamese and 50 percent Cambodian has lived peacefully together for years and is united in opposing possible eviction.

"We don't know the details of the government's plan, but if they want them to move, they should provide them business options and farm land," he said.

"I don't know why they are moving them. Maybe they want to protect fish stocks."

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