Phnom Penh’s Group 34 appeals to authorities trying to evict them that they will accept housing in the capital, not nearly 50 kilometres from the city
A girl from the Group 34 community on Wednesday. Destroyed by a fire last month, the community now consists of ramshackle temporary shelters.
LIVING in shelters built from donated tarpaulins and the charred remains of their old houses, residents of Group 34 near Sovanna Market in Phnom Penh say they are prepared to leave, just not to a community 49 kilometres away.
During the Khmer New Year, a fire destroyed 150 houses in the community. Then, authorities prohibited community members from rebuilding their homes, only to construct temporary shelters.
While police place the blame solely on one resident for setting the blaze, many villagers suspect he is only a scapegoat.
"People who have power or money hired this man," Touch Sophoan, a community representative, said Wednesday.
Despite suspicions about the arson, many residents are willing to move.
On Monday, the community sent a letter to the Phnom Penh Municipality and the Senate requesting to be relocated to Prey Khla village in Phnom Penh's Dangkor district.
Mann Chhoeun, the deputy governor of Phnom Penh, said Wednesday he had not yet received the letter from the Group 34 community but that a final decision about the Group 34 land had not been made.
We just have 10
fingers to beg them not to take us to where there is no school.
But residents say authorities will move them to a relocation site near Oudong mountain, almost 50 kilometres away from Phnom Penh. Last week, the Tomnup Toek commune chief confirmed they would be moved to Kandal province.
The letter stated that the community has been living in that location since 1993 and that they needed to live in Phnom Penh to make a living, saying they were a community of construction workers and street vendors.
Touch Sophoan said if they were moved far away they would have no way to feed themselves or their families.
"What we earn in one day, we eat," he said.
The community found a specific plot of land in Dangkor district that the owner was willing to sell that could hold the 258 families in the community.
"We need 7,224 square metres of land in order to build houses for 258 families ... and 9,030 square metres of land for drainage," the letter said. "That land belongs to Thoang Chantha."
Thoang Chantha said Wednesday that he had received no calls from the Phnom Penh Municipality about his land, but that it would cost US$30 per square metre.
Touch Sophoan said that the community's proposal would allow the government to get some positive coverage after being condemned by domestic and international rights organisations for their treatment of other evicted communities.
"If the Phnom Penh Municipality responds by forcibly evicting us, they will be criticised by civil society groups and newspapers.... But if they take us to Dangkor, maybe they will get compliments from these organisations."
While some residents threatened violence if police came, resident Van Ny said they had nothing to fight back with.
"We just have 10 fingers to beg them not to take us to where there is no school and water for our children," she said.