FORMER residents of the Group 78 community in the capital’s Chamkarmon district gathered yesterday to mark the two-year anniversary of their forced eviction at the hands of municipal authorities.
Roughly 30 villagers met yesterday at the site of their former community, near the Australian embassy, where the group lit incense and condemned officials from the municipality and the firm that forced them off their land. A pair of monks who joined the gathering recited pleas calling for spirits to prevent government-sanctioned evictions against innocent villagers in the future.
“I am so sorry for having lost my house. The authorities stole the villagers’ land and our suffering is unforgettable,” said Kheng Sok Roth, a former Group 78 resident. “If this happened to them, they would know how much people suffer when they lose their homes.”
The homes of 146 families from the community were cleared in 2009 after government officials claimed their land was owned by the state and by the local developer Sour Srun Enterprises.
A cable from the United States embassy in Phnom Penh released last week by WikiLeaks said Sour Srun is “believed by many to be a front for Canadia Bank, whose General Manager Pung Kheav Se is an advisor to [Prime Minister] Hun Sen”.
After Canadia was involved in a land dispute on Diamond Island in 2005, the cable said NGO sources had speculated that Canadia “may not want to be the center of bad publicity again, and therefore a front company was formed to keep government officials’ names out of the press.”
The Group 78 families claim they should have been eligible for ownership of their land under the 2001 Land Law, but that the government refused to grant them titles. Most were given US$8,000 in exchange for evacuating their homes.
Canadia Bank could not be reached for comment by The Post yesterday.