Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Japanese join Thais in neighbor troubles

Japanese join Thais in neighbor troubles

Japanese join Thais in neighbor troubles

japan2.jpg
japan2.jpg

Villagers and the houses they have lived in since 1979 behind the Japanese embassy, face imminent eviction

RESIDENTS behind the new Japanese Embassy grounds have been ordered by authorities

to vacate their homes because their presence there will be an embarrassment to Cambodia.

In a letter dated June 8, 2000, Chamkarmon's District Chief, Chey Salong, wrote:

"As for the houses of our people living here temporarily next to the fence of

the Japanese Embassy, this is land on which the Government plans to build a road.

It is the land of the State which cannot provide title to the people.

"Living there harms the security and the health of our people. And it harms

the credit of our country and it will make more harm to the cooperation between the

Kingdom of Cambodia and the Kingdom of Japan.

"In order to take care of our culture, of the people who are living in Phnom

Penh which is the heart of the country, please let our people remove their houses

and resettle in the development zone of Toul Samau, which the city is going to provide

them, in 15 days," stated the eviction notice.

Residents told the Post commune authorities warned them on June 12 not to speak to

reporters or NGOs. That same day plain-clothes police began a campaign of intimidation

and residents feared they might be burned out.

The First Secretary at the Japanese Embassy, Toshihiku Horiuchi, told the Post the

situation "is a matter between the Cambodian authorities and the people living

there. The Japanese Embassy has nothing to do with that."

"We hope the problem will be resolved in a peaceful manner, without violence,"

said Horiuchi, adding that legally the Japanese Embassy has "no duties or obligations"

to offer compensation to the residents.

Although the Japanese Embassy had not asked the Cambodian authorities to move the

people, the Embassy has lodged complaints about the residents in the past when they

made holes in the fence and used the Embassy grounds to dump their garbage, said

Horiuchi.

In a meeting on June 12 at District Chief Chey Salong's office, representatives of

the nine families ordered to relocate met with local authorities. The representatives

proposed that the authorities pay the families enough compensation to allow them

to move to a place of their choice within Phnom Penh.

Salong told the representatives it was unlikely the families would receive compensation.

All the authorities promised was an 8-by-12 meter plot of land near the site of the

new prison, and help to move the dismantled homes to the site.

Salong told the Post the language used in the eviction notice was chosen to make

it sound "official". He said the municipal authorities are unlikely to

pay much compensation to the nine families because they are not living on embassy-owned

land.

He said it will be best if the nine families move. "Their health will be better

if they move to the new location because the air is cleaner there and it is more

spacious," said Salong.

One of the residents, Cheng Vany, a 37-year-old laborer, said: "We will not

exchange our Dream Song [moto] for a Suzuki" - an analogy for the quality of

their present site to the one proposed by the authorities.

The site offered by the Government for resettlement, Toul Samau, is near the new

Prey Sar prison, and residents say moving there will adversely affect their livelihood.

Residents who spoke to the Post said they had lived in their homes since 1979 and

did not consider them at all "temporary" as was stated in the District

Chief's eviction notice.

Khan Sokunthea, 32, said she does not understand why the government provided land

titles to business people around their community but not to the poor people who live

there.

"This is a poor community and we don't have any power against the Government,

so they can choke us," she said.

"The people do not want to change place, but if they have to, then they want

compensation so they can choose themselves where to go. They want similar compensation

as the people moved away from the Thai Embassy - $7,200 [per household]," said

Sokunthea.

(The residents behind the Thai Embassy say they never received the promised compensation.)

Sokunthea hoped the Japanese Embassy would intervene in the dispute. "We learned

that Japanese people are not mean like other people and that the Japanese help Cambodia."

Sokunthea said last December some Japanese people came to meet with the residents.

"They told us 'Our embassy is not cheap like the other [Thai] embassy'."

Horiuchi said he did not believe any representatives from the Japanese embassy had

talked to the residents.

Mik Sam Ang, 62, has lived since 1979 in one of the homes to be vacated. He said:

"I would like to call on the Japanese Embassy for help. If I rely on my Government,

my house will just get smashed."

Another resident, whose home is not on the list to be removed now, but thinks it

will be in the future, said: "The Government does not follow the law. That is

why people always lose to the Government."

Ream Mao, 46, said she still feels pain after a clash with police on June 2. She

was blasted with a water cannon as police dislodged residents protesting the closure

of the access lane between the new Japanese and Thai Embassies.

Mao said she is afraid the authorities will use violence again. "I'm so scared

of the police. When I meet one now I am afraid to look in their face."

Lon Sreng, 68, built her house in 1979. Seven family members live there and they

make their living by selling fruit and rice soup to neighbors. She said: "If

the authorities are afraid that if we live here the relations between Cambodia and

Japan will be harmed, why don't they just give us money [to move]?"

"I will not leave my house. If the police come, I will die in my house,"

said Sreng.

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