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Lake residents want justice

Lake residents want justice

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A lawyer representing Boeung Kak villagers will challenge the filling of the lake by private developers and demand fair compensation for the displaced

RICK VALENZUELA

Residents watch as a pipe begins pumping sand and water into the lake. The reclamation process is expected to take more than a year to complete.

RESIDENTS at Boeung Kak plan to file a complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over what they say is the illegal filling of the natural lake by private developers.

"I will file with the court on behalf of residents and demand acceptable compensation," said the residents' lawyer, Choung Choungy, at a news conference Wednesday attended by about 100 lake residents.

"There had been no compensation when workers started filling the lake," said Noun Thol, 33, a representative of the lake residents. "I'm afraid that houses near the sand pump could fall down."

Toch Sophany, 48, lives in Village 4 in Srah Chak commune. She settled in Boeung Kak in 1979 and makes her living growing vegetables and lotus flowers.

"My business will be destroyed," she said. "Boeung Kak is our business." She said villagers would not accept houses and cash to abandon the area.

Municipal officials agreed Monday to pay an additional US$500 to lake residents who accepted compensation of a new house and $8,000 in cash.

 "I will not take [the deal]. I want fair compensation," Toch Sophany said, adding that fair compensation would be at least $30,000.

THIS MAY BE THE BEGINNING OF THE

BIGGEST FORCED EVICTION IN POST-WAR CAMBODIA.

Pa Socheatvong, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, told the Post on Wednesday that the municipality has three options for lake residents: a new house, a cash settlement or on-site upgrading of existing properties.

"This is our policy," he said. "If they refuse to accept the first two options, they must wait for development to finish."

Pa Socheatvong said residents would not be endangered by current development work. "Residents can move their houses away from the pump to areas that have more water."

Amnesty International and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the filling of the lake.

"In the absence of proper plans, compensation and adequate alternative housing for at least 3,000 affected families, the filling of the lake should be immediately halted. Otherwise, this may be the beginning of the biggest forced eviction in postwar Cambodia," said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher, in the statement.

"If the government wishes to develop Boeung Kak, they should do so through a legal process, with the participation of communities that live around the lake," said Dan Nicholson, Coordinator of COHRE's Asia and Pacific Programme.

Amnesty International and COHRE said the agreement between City Hall and Shukaku Inc breached domestic law, and "no environmental impact assessment  has been made public".

Puth Sorithy, director of the Environmental Impact Department at the Ministry of Environment, said last week in a meeting with 450 lakeside families at City Hall that Boeung Kak is not a healthy place for people to live.

"I felt sick from the smell when I visited," he told the villagers. "Our EIA balances natural and social environment issues. If there is no EIA, the company could not pump sand into the lake."

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