Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Nearly one year on, Sihanoukville's evicted families plead their cause

Nearly one year on, Sihanoukville's evicted families plead their cause

Nearly one year on, Sihanoukville's evicted families plead their cause


Khem Sovannara

One of the families from Sihanoukville shares a meal in the park in front of Phnom Penh's Wat Botum.

In the park in front of Phnom Penh's Wat Botum, 131 families from Sihanoukville have

been staying for almost a month, spending their nights on the ground under the banyan

trees. Their food supplies are running low but still they continue to seek help from

Prime Minister Hun Sen on their land dispute.

This is the second time they have come to Phnom Penh since being evicted from the

land they say they had lived on since the early 1980s. They say they still have not

received proper compensation.

The land is 12.047 hectares of attractive coastal property on the hill between Sihanoukville's

Sokha and Ochheuteal beaches in Poytamoung village, Sangkat 4, Khan Methpheap. Some

of the families have lived on the land since 1983 and the rest since 1986.

But on February 4, 2005, police and military police tore down all of the 131 families'

shelters, claiming the land belonged to Oknha Kong Triv. The police also forced each

family to accept 300,000 riel (about $75) in compensation.

Sao Kimseoun, 31, who lived on the land for more than ten years, said she could not

find a new place to live with such small compensation. "They [police and military

police] threatened us to obtain the 300,000 riel and they said if we didn't take

the money, we would leave from the land with no money."

Thoang Cheysarak, who represents the 131 families, said each family sought $2,500

in compensation, otherwise they said they would stay on the land. But Kong Triv did

not agree.

In February 2005, the 131 families came to Phnom Penh for the first time to seek

help from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

During this visit, they say they were promised by Hun Sen's adviser, a man they called

Kheng Bunkheang, that he would help handle the dispute. But when they went back to

live on the land in Sihanoukville between 50 and 60 families were arrested.

After their release the families moved to live on rented land a few hundred meters

behind the Sokha Beach Hotel for the next ten months. Sao Kimseoun said she paid

$3 a month for renting the strip of land she lived on then.

Then, on October 28, the Sihanoukville deputy court director, Keo Sakhan, issued

an injunction order and passed it to the people on December 2. It allowed them to

find shelter and do temporary business on the land they had been removed from.

But on December 18, 2005, the 131 families went to relocate on the land, only to

be shocked with electric poles and arrested by the police and military police the

next day, on December 19.

Kimseoun said, "The police shocked my son and when I tried to help my son, the

police handcuffed me. They were very cruel."

Sam Sarith, 42, who also lived on the land, said, "The people respected the

court's injunction order, so why did Oknha Kong Triv use this authority to violate

the people?"

He also said there weren't any governmental organizations that would help the people

settle the dispute.

Kimseoun said, "We went to the governor's house when we were in Sihanoukville

but we were forced to go away by the guard when we arrived at the gate."

Then, on December 20, they came to Phnom Penh once again to seek help from Hun Sen.

Hul Manith, representing the 131 families, said since the people came to Phnom Penh

on December 20, apart from Kheng Bunkheang, no official from the national assembly

or government have talked to them about the dispute.

Since their arrival in Phnom Penh, non-governmental organizations such as Licadho,

Star Kampuchea and Adhoc have supplied them with rice, canned fish, dried fish and

pure water, Manith said.

Chea Kim Ieng, general manager for Licadho, said due to limited funds the organization

had only provided the families with one supply of food since they arrived in Phnom


"We not only provided food to people coming from Sihanoukville, but we also

gave it to people coming from other provinces including Kampong Speu, Battambang

and Banteay Meanchey", Kim Ieng said. "We help them to have food during

their stay in Phnom Penh."

He added that his organization spent between $200 and $300 each time they provided


Ny Chakrya, chief of the monitoring section with ADHOC, said they had also sent four

supplies of rice and dried fish to the people outside Wat Botum, each one costing

about $300.

Chakrya said, "We have helped them since before they came to Phnom Penh. We

helped them because we saw how poor they were."

Manith said she wrote many letters to the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior,

the National Assembly, the Senate and the Council of Ministers. "Now the Ministry

of Justice replied that they would go and investigate for us," she said.

"However, the people still stay in front of Wat Botum until they get a good

result, even if they are forced to go, because they do not have a place to go to

live besides their land of 12.047 hectares," Manith said.

Say Hak, Sihanoukville governor, said he would not give any comment on the dispute

and he suggested the Post ask the court.

Tuot Lux, secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said on January 12 that

he would soon summit a report about the land dispute to his minister. He said if

his minister agreed with the report, it would be sent to Hun Sen.

"We are now making a report after we went down to Sihanoukville for the last

few days to see the place and collect documents from plaintiff, accused persons,

authorities and court," Lux said.

"And it will not take a long time to do the report because it is an immediate



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