Roadside properties demolished by authorities in advance of road-widening project, with affected families calling on the municipality to provide them with fair compensation.
House-breakers, employed by local authorities, saw at a resident's house in the Sen Sok district of Phnom Penh on Monday. Residents of the area's Hanoi Road had been warned to leave, but many had not, instead staying to watch in shock as their homes were torn down.
HOMES and fences belonging to residents of Teuk Thla and Phnom Penh Thmey communes in Sen Sok district were demolished by Phnom Penh authorities on Monday to make way for a road expansion project, with witnesses reporting that hundreds of armed police were deployed in the action.
Ten families comprising 40 people lost their homes along the Cambodia-Vietnam Frienship Highway - popularly known as Hanoi Road.
The demolition began after Sen Sok district Governor Khoung Sreng on March 6 told some residents living along the road that they had five days to remove their homes, fences and stalls. Residents did not move in time.
Oeum Reun, 53, whose house was demolished Monday morning, said she had lived there since 1979 and would go to Prime Minister Hun Sen's house to ask for his personal intervention.
"This is crueller than what Pol Pot's soldiers did to us - they mistreated me and then made me put my thumbprint on the form allowing them to demolish my house," she said.
If they want to kill me i don't care because my house has been ... demolished."
"It's up to them - if they want to kill me, I don't care because my house has been completely demolished."
Oeum Reun said she was not interested in being relocated to the four-by-eight metre site at Thnot Chrum that the municipality was offering. "I would rather die than live at Thnot Chrum. I want to live in this area."
The expansion plan requires a width of 22 metres for the road, 8 metres of which will be for drainage infrastructure.
Sek Sovanna, a lawyer for the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), which has been representing the residents, filed an injunction with the Municipal Court last month seeking to halt the construction and has also filed complaints to City Hall. But she said CLEC has yet to receive any response.
"The authorities wrote to them in 2004. Since then the residents have tried asking the authorities to negotiate, but they kept quiet until the end of 2008," she said.
"If they had expanded the road to the width they said in 2004, it wouldn't affect the villagers - back then they said it would be widened by 8 metres along the 4-kilometre length. Now they have turned up and said it must be widened to 30 metres."
Sek Sovanna said the authorities were obliged to pay compensation since the residents were living there legally.
She added that in 2004 there were 90 families, but more than half had left since they did not dare stand up to the authorities.
A bulldozer tears down houses along Sen Sok district's Hanoi Road on Monday.
District Governor Khuong Sreng told the Post Monday that the authorities could not delay the project simply because residents had failed to move and said most would get no compensation.
"They have to respect our notice. This is for development, and City Hall has a policy only to speak to those whose entire houses are affected," he said. And because the expansion project "affected only one or two complete houses", the authorities had offered those people a plot of land each in Thnot Chrum village.
He said that other affected families had lost fences and pavement area and therefore would not be entitled to compensation.
"They have big houses and villas," he said.
Resident Prum Navy, 38, said her 14-metre house had lost 12 metres of its length to the project.
"My house has just 2 metres left - how can I live?" she asked. "I would like compensation from the authorities to buy a new house, but they say they have no plan to provide any compensation."
She said of the 10 families that had lost their property, just one had been compensated.
"The authorities came to demolish our houses with rage - they came to tell us on Friday and gave us just three days. And today they have come and destroyed them," she said.
"We are poor people and we don't have power like them. So they can do anything to us."
Chen Ton, 60, watched as her house lost 12 metres of its length, leaving her with just 2.5 metres of living space. She said the authorities showed no pity for the poor.
"We don't deny that the authorities need to develop, but they should know how this affects us. We are humans, not animals," she said.
"They use their power to destroy our houses. We have asked them about compensation since 2004, but they never spoke with us."
Resident Tey Narin told reporters that none of the residents dared to confront the police and the authorities and simply left their houses and fences to be demolished: "No one dares to protest - we fear being arrested," he said.