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New mayor, new day for protesters

New mayor, new day for protesters

After more than a year beating on the doors of City Hall to demand an audience with Phnom Penh’s recently retired municipal governor Kep Chuktema, Borei Keila and Boeung Kak lake representatives were yesterday invited in to talk with his successor – on just his second day in the job.

Maintaining a tone he set during his swearing-in on Friday, Pa Socheatvong, the new governor promised quick solutions to the capital’s two most high-profile disputes, according to the representatives he spoke with.

“He told me that after checks of all villagers’ documents have been made, he will go to inspect the communities and facilitate discussions in order to resolve the dispute,” said Heng Mom, a Boeung Kak community representative.

“I believe in him and hope he will solve land problems for all people in Phnom Penh, including ours. He won’t be like Kep Chuktema, who simply ignored our problems.”

Chuktema, who oversaw the filling-in of Boeung Kak lake, refused to meet with representatives from that community after August 2011, when Prime Minister Hun Sen signed off on sub-decree 183.

The sub-decree cut 12.44 hectares of land from the concession held by Senator Lao Meng Khin’s Shukaku Inc, but that land has yet to be demarcated and some 60 families remain without land titles.

Likewise, Chuktema did not once meet with Borei Keila representatives after their violent eviction on January 3 last year.

Many of the subsequent protests involving either or both communities have rarely garnered anything but violent or detached responses from the municipal authorities.

Socheatvong’s contrasting  approach was thus a welcome change and one they hoped would result in a solution soon, Borei Keila representative Pich Limkhoun said.

“We are so happy because his words are our hope of getting a proper and fair solution,” she said.

Socheatvong had promised to resolve their disputes, but would focus immediately on addressing food shortage and shelter problems faced by Borei Keila evictees, Limkhoun added.

The governor had suggested that in return, the villagers should stop protesting.

“I told him we want a solution before the National Election [on July 28],” Limkhoun said.

“We do not want to wait until after the election, because we worry that something will change,” she said, adding that the governor had not specified when a solution would come.

Socheatvong could not be reached yesterday, while City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche confirmed the meeting had taken place, but did not elaborate.

Sia Phearum, secretariat director of rights-group Housing Rights Task Force, said the governor’s approach was a step forward.

“I feel positive that at least he is talking to people and hearing their problems,” he said.

“But we will wait and see if he can solve this before the election.”

About 50 villagers from Boeung Kak lake, Borei Keila and Thmor Kol – a community involved in a land dispute near the airport – filed documents to the Ministry of Justice yesterday, urging the Appeal Court to hear imprisoned activist Yorm Bopha’s case.

Additional reporting by Shane Worrell

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