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Lake plan remains shrouded

Lake plan remains shrouded

Residents and media barred from presentation of Boeung Kak development

PHNOM Penh officials met behind closed doors Thursday to discuss plans for the controversial Boeung Kak lake development site, though new details have been disclosed in recent days to some of the families who stand to be affected by the secretive project.

Residents were not invited to the meeting, while a reporter was also turned away – further proof, housing rights advocates said, of the lack of transparency surrounding the plans for the site.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema was scheduled to host a presentation Thursday to show the master development plan for the Boeung Kak lake area, where an estimated 4,000 families are facing eviction.

Asked to provide details after the meeting, Kep Chuktema said he was too busy to talk. Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun confirmed that the presentation took place, but declined to comment on its contents.

However, a newly produced graphic (see page 2) detailing the most recent vision for the development suggests the plan has changed from previous designs.

The graphic, obtained by the Post on Thursday, depicts a series of towers lining the western and southern edges of the site. An access road from the south leads into the complex, runs between two large towers and heads towards what appears to be a drastically smaller lake in the centre of the development.

In addition, the graphic shows what appears to be a stream that branches out of the lake and snakes towards the northeast corner of the development area. Smaller buildings line the stream as it curves and ends in a second lake.

Sia Phearum, the secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said he has spoken with affected residents who have also seen a copy of the graphic.

He said the villagers think the design looks “nice”, but that they are also dismayed that planning for the development is proceeding even as the fate of their homes remains unresolved.

“They think the picture looks very nice and interesting,” he said.

“But they’re unhappy and disappointed because they designed it without consulting the community.”

‘Not for everyone’

City Hall has promised to compensate affected families, but residents say previous offers of US$8,000 or a plot of land on the outskirts of the capital are insufficient or unacceptable. Although an estimated 1,000 families have already been moved, those who remain have been left in limbo.

“The development moves so fast,” Sia Phearum said.

“We are all humans. We should talk together. If we can’t talk, then there are no fair negotiations and no good solution. This development is not for everyone; it’s only for a small group of people.”

Concrete details on the Boeung Kak lake project have rarely been released since officials first announced plans to develop the area more than three years ago.

The city agreed to a 99-year lease of 133 hectares surrounding the lake to a local company called Shukaku, which is headed by Lao Meng Khin, a senator in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Since then, however, officials have been tight-lipped over the size and scale of the project, despite the fact that workers have already begun filling in sections of the lake with sand.

An early master plan for the area detailed residential and commercial zoning, complete with office buildings, recreation centres and entertainment complexes.

A map showing the outer limits of the development wasn’t shown to affected villagers until earlier this year.

Thursday’s closed-door meeting was another example of the government deliberately with-holding information from the public, residents and rights activists said.

Soy Kolab, who lives in Village 6 in the northeast section of the lake area, said some villagers knew about Thursday’s meeting but were not allowed to participate.

“The authorities are always saying they do development projects to reduce poverty in Cambodia and demand that we join together, but they have never called us to join in meetings or to listen and share suggestions with them,” Soy Kolab said.

Ing Navy, who lives in Village 24, bemoaned what she said was an attempt by the authorities to “confiscate my homeland”.

“We have lived here for more than 20 years, but they accuse us of living illegally,” she said.

David Pred, executive director of the group Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said authorities have shown a “stunning lack of regard” for the residents, who stand to lose their homes if the project is completed.

“It is extraordinary how non-transparent the largest and most invasive development project in Phnom Penh has been,” Pred said.

“More than 1,000 families have already been displaced from the area, while many others have seen their homes collapse or flooded with waste water. Yet, to this date, hardly any information about the development plan has been released to the public.”

Advocates say most of the families who live in Boeung Kak are long-term residents who are eligible for ownership of their land under the 2001 Land Law, and that the deal granting a lease to Shukaku is illegal.

Authorities, however, insist that the land belongs to the state.

Mystery also surrounds the development’s financial backers.

Earlier this year, the Post reported that a succession of Chinese companies have been linked to the project. Reports in Chinese news media pegged the total cost of the project at around $1.5 billion, with one report claiming that the development was to be completed in 2013.

Additional reporting by May Tithara

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