Community lowers its compensation request in hopes of fresh talks with city officials.
Photo by: SEBASTIAN STRANGIO
A Group 78 resident looks on as community members outline a new compensation offer at the Tonle Bassac site Thursday.
THE city's besieged Group 78 community extended an olive branch to city officials Thursday, lowering its compensation demands and calling for mediated negotiations with City Hall.
Community representatives outlined the offer at a press conference and expressed hope that municipal officials would enter into talks.
"[I]n the spirit of cooperation ... Group 78 has offered to settle the dispute on terms they deem very reasonable," the community said in a statement.
"An amicable settlement of the controversy could do much to restore faith in the ability of the Cambodian government to pursue development while protecting the rights of affected minorities."
Community representative Lim Sambo said the 70 families remaining at the community's Tonle Bassac commune site are now requesting US$1,105 per square metre - 15 percent less than the $1,300 figure determined by an independent property appraisal to be the value of the land in March.
"We want to negotiate with City Hall and ask them to tell us how much they are willing to give us," he said, adding that the city's offer of a new plot of land and $5,000 in compensation vastly undervalued the community's 5-by-12-metre plots.
Municipal officials have repeatedly argued that Group 78 residents are living on state and company land, but some residents say they have lived on the site since the early 1980s.
Resident Kheng Soroth said, "We have been in negotiations with City Hall since 1996, and we have not got any result. We want to find a middle way ... so the people win and City Hall wins.''
The community's situation is complicated by the proximity of the new Australian Embassy, which opens its doors Monday. Man Vuthy, a coordinator for the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), said some residents thought the embassy's presence would work to their advantage.
"They are happy to see the Australian Embassy here, because the Australian Embassy can act as a human rights watchdog for them," he said.
Fiona Cochaud, first secretary at the embassy, said the Australian government was "concerned" about forced evictions but did not comment on Group 78 specifically.
"The Embassy has conveyed Australia's concerns to the Cambodian government and lawmakers on a number of occasions, and will continue to do so," she said via email.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong said he was busy and declined to comment Thursday.