MORE than 20 families from Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district had their homes destroyed by police and government workers driving excavators and wielding axes in an eviction on Chroy Changvar peninsula Thursday morning.
Residents, some of whom said they had been living in the area for as many as 30 years, said the eviction came as a shock. On October 7, Russey Keo district authorities issued a statement warning community members to clear a sidewalk in order to make way for a construction project, but the statement did not mention the eviction.
Hor Monny Nieth, a 9-year-old student at Chroy Changvar’s Bin Sieng Primary School, said she was “terrified” as she watched police use an excavator to destroy the community. Afterwards, she tearfully collected books and clothing that she was able to recover from the wreckage of her home.
“Do not crush my home any more – I want to live in my home like normal people do,” she said.
Her mother, 40-year-old Pou Ankieravy, said she wanted to try to stop the government workers from tearing down her house but was afraid for her life. The Russey Keo district governor, she said, had treated her community like “animals”.
“The authorities that destroyed our communities are crueller than armed robbers,” she said, adding: “I’m hopeless – everything was destroyed by the Russey Keo authorities.”
Recently evicted families turn down compensation despite police threats
Former residents of a recently razed village in Oddar Meanchey province said police had ramped up their threats in an effort to force families to accept compensation. Meas Mantha, a former resident of Bos village in Kaun Kriel commune, said four provincial police officers on Wednesday told about 50 families who had sought shelter in a public meeting hall that they would be banned from sleeping in public places if they did not accept the compensation offer “within two or three days”. “They said they would deport us back to our hometowns if we still refuse to accept the offer, and we will get nothing,” she said, adding that the families had deemed the offer of a 30-metre-by-50-metre plot of land and 1 hectare of farmland to be inadequate. In an operation that was roundly condemned by local NGOs, armed provincial officials set fire to houses in the village on October 9 to clear the land for development by Angkor Sugar Company, which has been granted a 10,000-hectare economic land concession in the area. Vath Paranin, secretary general of Oddar Meanchey province, could not be reached for comment on Thursday. KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA
Koub Sleh, deputy governor of Russey Keo district, told journalists at the scene that local authorities had announced plans to construct a road in the area in April, and had invited community members to meet with them on numerous occasions to discuss the project. The government was forced to evict the families, he said, because they demanded market value for their land.
“We could not accept their request at this time – we need to exert our authority,” he said.
Muy Chea, 48, said he and other villagers had asked authorities at the scene on Thursday to give them three days to clear their belongings
before their homes were razed. This offer, however, was denied.
“I could not take anything from my house. It was very dangerous because two excavators were destroying it,” he said.
Koub Sleh said that about 10 families from the community had accepted 4-metre-by- 8-metre land grants in Meanchey district’s Thnout Chrum village, with those who remained on Thursday having declined this offer.
“We offered new land to them at Thnout Chrum, but they did not agree,” he said. “We need this space for a development project to expand a road in the area.”
Chan Soveth, investigative director for the local rights group Adhoc, said the Cambodian government always uses the idea of “development” as an excuse to violate people’s rights.
“Evicting people for development projects is very popular in this government, but both the local and international community must condemn these actions, as they constitute serious human rights violations.”
Sar Vann was one member of the community whose house was not destroyed on Thursday. He said he was hired by the government as a day labourer and paid US$5 to help dismantle his neighbours’ homes.
“I feel very sorry, but I need the money to support my family, so I have no choice,” he said. “The local authorities are not brave enough to destroy these poor villagers’ homes on their own.”