NEXT month, developers will begin filling in Phnom Penh's Boeung Kak Lake with sand dredged from the Tonle Sap, reigniting concerns about the planned development which even now remains shrouded in secrecy.
"The company [will] pump out the water and pump in sand to fill the lake," said Phnom Penh deputy governor Pa Socheat Vong, adding the work is scheduled to begun in September and take an estimated 12 to 18 months to complete.
In February 2007, the municipal government signed a $79 million leasehold agreement with little-known developer Shukaku Inc., giving it the right to develop a 133-hectare area at Boeung Kak. Although no plans have been made public, Pa Socheat Vong said the project would include shops, hotels, apartments, a university and hospital.
But residents remain concerned about their fate once the project is underway. Teav Teang, 60, who has raised fish for ten years in the lake behind her lot on the north shore, told the Post in June that she feared relocation to an area lacking in basic amenities and said "no official or company representative has come to discuss it with us."
Shukaku is reportedly headed by CPP senator and Pheapimex Group director Lao Meng Khin, but little more is known about the company. Despite exhaustive efforts by Post reporters to track down the developer for comment, no Phnom Penh office or contact number could be found, and city officials refused to comment.
Lack of transparency
David Pred, country director of legal NGO Bridges Across Borders, said that the project has been shrouded in secrecy from the beginning, and that authorities have been exerting pressure on the 4,000 lakeside families expected to make way when construction begins. "At the moment they're pressuring and intimidating people to move and to accept relocation. About 150 people in Village 4 have been pressured to thumbprint documents giving up their land and forcing them to move to Trapeing Troyeung [a relocation site 20km from Phnom Penh]," he said. "There's been no consultation and no information given to these people."
Pa Socheat Vong said the company had made efforts to explain the situation to residents, but that claims of eviction were meaningless because they were residing on state-owned land. "We shouldn't use the term ‘eviction,' because all issues have been discussed with the residents," he said. "These people must understand that the lake belongs to the state."
He added that residents were offered three options: to accept on-site replacement accommodation, to resettle to Trapaing Troyeung, or to accept cash compensation of around $10,000 per house. "We encourage residents to select on-site housing, because they will have a good place to live, unlike the current place, which is polluted, unsanitary, disorderly, and a fire threat," he said. "We will try our best to explain that the land they live on belongs to the state, and that they live there illegally."
But Pa Nguon Teang, former executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights and current director of the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media, said many residents had a legal case for title to the land. "According to the 2001 Land Law, people who have lived on unoccupied land for five years prior to 2001 can claim land titles," he said. "Many people at Boeung Kak have been here since 1980, [so] according to the law, they should be able to apply for a title."
Nhep Ngim, 54, a resident of the east side of the lake, said he has no trust that residents will be offered fair compensation for their land. "We just want a fair resolution from City Hall. But I have no confidence that there will be a fair resolution, because the city's track record shows that it has always evicted violently," he said.