The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has spent the last three years solving the problems of half of the impoverished communities which dwell on public land in the capital. Authorities have nonetheless warned that action will be taken against those who attempted to incite the remaining communities into taking state land.
Speaking at a press conference on the progress and future direction of Phnom Penh on March 1, Deputy governor Keut Che said that from 2019 through 2021, the administration has solved the problems of 150 out of the 300 poor communities living on state public land.
“As you know, we have never evicted people without offering compensation. Few countries can beat Cambodia’s admirable track record in this. When people are found to be living on state land, they are not punished – authorities work hard to find local land concessions for them or to provide financial compensation,” he added.
He said however that while the administration had worked tirelessly to find peaceful solutions, certain agitators had tried to incite members of the communities to occupy public land. The people who incited this course of action would face legal consequences, he warned.
“We do not have a policy of expanding these communities using state land, as a small group of people seem to want to encourage. We absolutely cannot do that. We are obliged to solve their issues, and have been working hard to do so. If someone tries to suggest these communities occupy public land, then they will be punished according to the law.”
Che said that there were usually two options in these cases: “If the land they dwell on does not affect infrastructure development – including roads and drainage systems – then it is possible for us to grant them titles for the plots of land they are living on.
“However, people who live on pavements or alongside canals, for example, cannot be granted land. In these cases, alternatives must be found. I advise anyone in this situation to be patient – we will find a solution. They should not listen to outside agitators who tell them otherwise,” he said.
He added that the municipality is constructing a new railway line, and engineering studies concluded that it would require a large complex drainage system.
“We have learnt we need a large canal for the project to be effective. To ensure adequate drainage, we will need to lay steel sheeting and dig ditches. The work will be extensive. We will allocate the rest of the land to members of the community living there,” he said.
Soeung Saran, executive director of the housing rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), said previous solutions had held positives or negatives for those affected.
“In many cases, the solution was prolonged and arrests were made, as in the case of Borei Keila and Boeung Kak. We have also seen equitable solutions where no violence occurred. One example was the situation of the families living along the Stung Meanchey canal – they received quality on-site development,” he said.