Some 10,000 people living at the Boeung Kak lakeside have been given a deadline of next week to leave their homes or be forcibly removed, raising the prospect of what could be the largest single forced eviction in the Kingdom’s recent history.
In a letter dated March 2, Daun Penh district governor Sok Sambath said the villagers would be forcibly evicted if they do not leave their homes voluntarily by next Tuesday.
“In case you fail to heed this announcement, the authorities will take strict measures and actions to push the villagers to leave the Boeung Kak area,” the letter states.
“The authorities will not be responsible for the loss of your property in case your homes are removed.”
Local developer Shukaku Inc, owned by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin, received a 99-year lease in 2007 to develop the lake and has since partnered with China’s Inner Mongolia Erdos Hung Jun Investment Co on the project in a joint venture.
Rights groups estimate that the 133-hectare development has affected more than 4,000 families, roughly 2,000 of whom have already accepted meagre compensation offers and left the site.
Protests by Boeung Kak villagers have become a weekly occurrence in Phnom Penh, as villagers have denounced as insufficient the proposed compensation options: US$8,500 cash, housing in Dangkor district and two million riel ($495), or on-site relocation, the plans for which have yet to materialise.
Individual villages and families in the area have been evicted in piecemeal fashion over the past few years, with some having their homes swallowed entirely as Shukaku pumps in sand to fill the lake.
Srah Chak deputy commune chief In Sophorn said today that the remaining families had little choice but to accept the proposed compensation.
“It is not important whether their homes are big or small because the government has set the payments at $8,500 or two million riels,” she said.
The lakeside residents, she added, “can receive more than this if they come to discuss the issue directly with our committee and Shukaku’s representative”.
Tep Vanny, a community representative, said about 500 villagers planned to protest tomorrow in front of Shukaku headquarters in Phnom Penh to agitate for appropriate on-site housing.
Villagers have requested that 15 hectares at the lakeside be set aside for this purpose.
“If they do not accept this, we will not stop our protests and we will continue until there is an appropriate solution for us, although we are facing danger,” she said.
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of local NGO Housing Rights Task Force, said that in previous evictions at the lakeside, local authorities had usually pushed back the relocation deadlines "at least three or four times" before finally following through with the process. As such, he said he did not believe that the roughly 2,000 remaining families would all be evicted next week.