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Projects being ‘built on lies’

Ny Sophannak, pictured in Phnom Penh yesterday, says she was evicted from Dey Krahorm under false pretenses.
Ny Sophannak, pictured in Phnom Penh yesterday, says she was evicted from Dey Krahorm under false pretenses. Heng Chivoan

Projects being ‘built on lies’

Ny Sophannak, a 42-year-old mother of three, lives in a small house on a tiny alley behind Wat Thann just off Sothearos Boulevard. Ten years ago, she was among 800 families violently evicted from the nearby Dey Krahorm community on what she says were false pretenses.

“They lied to me. They [local authorities] told us they will make a garden at Dey Krahorm,” she said. “But now they have new restaurants and buildings there.”Dey Krahorm is one of 77 sites identified by urban land rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) in which a majority of the promised development projects used to justify evictions have yet to be completed or have significantly altered their plans.

Promises Kept? a new report released by the group yesterday, found that only 35 per cent of projects that involved evictions had been completed, with the remaining either partially constructed or undeveloped entirely.

“As development has increased, evictions have also increased,” said Soeung Saran, advocacy program manager at STT. “But has the government done an analysis of the effects of these evictions?” “We know that these projects can bring economic growth and develop the city. But we need to consider if it is happening in an inclusive manner,” he said.

Saran added that some of the completed projects had steered so far from their original plans as to be unrecognisable. At Sambok Chap community in Chamkarmon district, people were evicted by authorities in the mid-2000s to make way for a public garden, he said. It is now a commercial football pitch.

In fact, most of the evictions studied were in service to commercial development, with just five of the 77 sites dedicated to public purposes such as schools or medical centres. Sia Phearum, executive director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said accountability and transparency should be the core tenets when local authorities and businesses seize people’s land, but experience showed otherwise.

“When the Ministry of Land Management or City Hall makes promises to residents, at least 90 percent will trust the government, because the government says it is for public use,” he said, referring to initial consultations on proposed evictions.

He said that while many communities had exhausted legal options before resorting to pressuring local authorities with petitions and protests, the only way to get accountability was through the ballot. “They have to have active participation in the elections,” he said. “The ruling party has not taken action, as has been called for by civil society organisations.”

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said forced evictions indeed inevitably hurt the popularity of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and pushed voters toward the opposition camp. He added that, if elected, the CNRP would ensure that development would be to the detriment of Cambodia’s citizens.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan could not be reached yesterday. The report also surveyed residents of 46 of the 77 communities who were still living on the eviction site. Of those, 52 percent made the choice to come back after being thrown out.

About 45 per cent of those respondents said their living environment had significantly worsened after the eviction, citing proximity to trash, flooding and food insecurity created by living in proximity to ongoing construction activity or seemingly abandoned projects.

“This reflects an exceedingly slow rate of development, which has a direct impact on food security, as access to lakes for fishing or plots of land to grow vegetables on, has been removed,” the report reads, citing increased flooding reported by Boeung Kak lake residents after developer Shukaku filled the site with sand.

But more than half of residents surveyed felt sticking to the same neighbourhood from which they had been evicted – rather than living on resettlement sites often far from the city centre – meant better access to social and public services.

Back at Wat Thann, Sophannak says she never wanted to go to Damnak Trayoung – her official resettlement site – because it was almost 20 kilometres away and inaccessible to public facilities. “I want to live here, because it is near the city,” she said. “There is a good place for my three sons to go to school, and I can also sell some vegetables to make a living.”

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