IN LIMBO: Floating village near Kampong Chhnang faces an uncertain future.
ore than 5,000 residents of a cluster of floating villages in Kampong Chhnang are
facing what they say is an unfair eviction order from provincial government authorities.
Approximately 1,200 Khmer, ethnic Vietnamese and Cham families inhabiting the community
of floating houses anchored on the Tonle Sap in central Kampong Chanang were given
a Dec 31 2000 deadline to relocate as an "environmental protection" measure.
Provincial officials first announced the impending evictions in June 1999, justifying
the order on the basis that the floating villages are a source of dangerous human
and industrial waste.
"We cannot allow them to live like this any more because it affects water quality
and damages the fisheries [in the Tonle Sap], said Kampong Chhnang Governor So Phirin.
Phirin's concerns were echoed by Kampong Chhnang District Chief Khhan Khemara, who
noted that the "Kandal" floating village sits adjacent the intake pipe
for Kampong Chhnang's water plant, posing a threat to the city's water quality.
Floating village resident Puy Yang Toeng, 65, concedes that some village residents
adversely affect water quality by dumping oil, acid and scrap iron into the water.
But Toeng urged authorities to delay the evictions for another two years to allow
residents to save enough money to buy or rent land elsewhere.
Toeng alleged that the eviction orders were an attempt at profiteering by provincial
authorities, whom he accused of buying up land along the river since the eviction
order and offering it to floating villagers at ten times its original value.
"Why have some authorities bought land only to rent to us at expensive prices,?"
Toeng asked. "Why do they put this pressure on us? Anywhere we go the land will
already belong to somebody."
Khemara justifies the province's lack of assistance in finding new land for the floating
villagers on the basis that the majority are "illegal immigrants."
"We are waiting for the Royal Government to decide whether these Vietnamese
are to be considered refugees or [aliens] to be sent back to their own country."
While insisting that environmental concerns were the main motivation for the evictions,
Governor Phirin admitted that a crackdown on illegal immigrants was also a factor
in the government's decision.
"The law is the law and friendship is friendship," he said of the effect
the evictions would have on any illegal immigrants living in the villages. "We
don't use dictatorial measures but we must be strict."