A handful of holdout families have accepted compensation to leave their homes in Borei Keila, following individual negotiations with district authorities yesterday.
Borei Keila is one of the longest-running land conflicts in the country, with development company Phanimex having agreed in 2004 to build 10 buildings in the area for residents to relocate to in exchange for the land they lived on, but building only eight. Hundreds of families were left without a permanent home when authorities violently evicted them in 2012.
A group of 11 families was given a deadline of December 22 to accept compensation or leave empty-handed, though the deadline passed with no takers as holdouts continued to squat in a dilapidated building at Borei Keila. Last week, one of the families quietly accepted compensation, and yesterday one of the community’s representatives followed suit.
Ngov Nary, vocal protester and representative of 11 families who were offered compensation, said she had accepted $16,000 yesterday. “I don't want to spend much time on this case anymore. So I accepted it,” she said.
Another representative of the now nine families, Sar Sorn, said Nary was the only one of their group who accepted compensation yesterday. Sorn said the others would continue to protest.
Another group of 30 holdout families were listed in a document issued end of last year. Ten were offered monetary compensation, and 10 were offered relocation to Andong village, while the remaining 10 were offered nothing, but have remained part of the negotiation process. Of this group, 16 families accepted compensation last week.
The remaining 14, however, continued to hold out, saying compensation remains too low and the relocation site too remote. Andong, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, has long been decried as lacking in services and access to opportunity, and residents who relocated there have encountered difficulties finding jobs to sustain themselves.
Nonetheless, three more of the 14 families accepted relocation to Andong yesterday without monetary compensation, according to representative Sok Srey On.
Va Sophy, who was among the three families, was already experiencing buyer’s remorse yesterday. "I already accepted and signed, but now I feel a little bit of regret,” she said. “I should have asked for more money. I got only the house [at Andong], but I need some money too.”
Vann Sophath, a project coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, welcomed the authorities’ approach of negotiating, but noted that families might have only grudgingly accepted compensation.
“This is a sign that the authority has tried to process a nonviolent solution to end the problem,” he said in a message. “We are happy to see this approach continue until the end, even though we know that most of the families who had accepted the solution [accepted it] as they have no choice … [because they] did not want to continue living in this situation, causing them to always face high risk of eviction and wasting time [that could be spent] to make an income.”
District governor Lim Sophea could not be reached.
Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski