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Group 78 lashes out at radio comments

Group 78 lashes out at radio comments

090715_05
Group 78 residents await the result of a Court of Appeal ruling Monday.

Residents say Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun lied about government efforts to clear the site.

RESIDENTS from Group 78 who face imminent eviction from their homes in central Phnom Penh told the Post Tuesday that Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun lied on a local radio station when he said government officials were not coercing residents into accepting compensation.

"They forced and threatened us to take their compensation, but when [Mann Chhoeun] talked to the radio, he said that we volunteered," Lim Sambo, a Group 78 representative, said about the deputy governor's statements on Voice of America radio.

"[Powerful people] can say what they want. They threaten us to accept their compensation, and when people become afraid of their threats, they tell everybody we volunteered," Lim Sambo said.

Amnesty International issued a press release Monday saying that city authorities were "trying to force the families to accept compensation", adding that more than 20 families fled Group 78 in 2007 to a resettlement site far from Phnom Penh when they were harassed by local authorities.

Another Group 78 representative, Kheng Soroth, said Tuesday that Mann Chhoeun can say whatever he wants because he wields political power.
"Because he has power, what he says is never wrong, and what he says is designed just to make people afraid," he said.

Mann Chhoeun, however, denied trying to scare residents and said he was "praying" for more members of the Group 78 community to accept the government's terms.

"I am praying to the Buddha spirit to make people's minds calm and accept our compensation," he said. "We don't want to use administrative measures ... but sometimes we reserve our right [to use them]."

Because the community is near the NagaWorld Hotel and Casino and the National Assembly, he said, removing the poor community would make the capital more attractive to tourists.

"I need to develop the area [to improve] the city's face," he said.

The Amnesty International statement said that government officials have had no genuine consultation with members of Group 78, and that they have failed to explore "feasible alternatives to the proposed eviction, including proposals submitted by Group 78 residents themselves".

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