A 14-year-long bitter and sometimes violent dispute over ownership of the ground
floor of No 174, a two-storey house on the corner of Streets 63 and 282, erupted
into a fiery public protest in central Phnom Penh as a prosecutor and police tried
to execute an eviction order on the owner and occupant.
One of Keo Sovannavuth's sons stokes burning tires. He and his brother had gasoline on hand and claimed they were prepared to self-immolate to prevent their mother's property being seized by police. The police backed off. She made the same threat last year.
Keo Sovannavuth, 52, was hiding in safety but her two sons were determined to prevent
any attempt to remove the family. In the face of suicide threats the police retired.
Sovannavuth's chief spokesperson, niece Chhim Sokha, said they were hoping to reach
a cash settlement to end the festering standoff, but the upstairs owner Dr Uch Yan
had not responded. "We're asking for $1,200 per square meter, or $72,960,"
she said. Some years ago Sovannavuth declined a similar settlement, saying she wanted
the house but she now fears for her safety.
Sovannavuth said she has been living downstairs in the house since 1980, during which
time she had spent $4,000 on a complete rebuild. She claimed a legal right to the
property. However she alleged Dr Yan had bribed the court to get an eviction order.
Sovannavuth said she was friends with Yan and his wife, who had moved into the upper
floor in 1979. They lived as good neighbors until 1990 when she began rebuilding.
Mrs Yan declared Sovannavuth had no right to repair the building and began a campaign
of intimidation "to drive us out of the house." This included verbal and
physical abuse, the throwing of urine and dirty water down the walls into her kitchen,
and depositing household waste into her yard.
A Post story of October 15, 1999, reported that Phnom Penh Court had noted the official
land title failed to divide the building into separate flats, even though it functioned
practically as separate units. Sovannavuth lost the case, appealed, and this week's
showdown may have been her last stand.
One of Sovannavuth's chief advisers is her brother-in-law, diplomat Steve Dowall,
first secretary at the NZ Embassy in Bangkok. He has been closely involved in the
wrangle and has written numerous letters and appeals to people including the Prime
Minister. He achieved a stay of eviction until September 22. Dowall said the case
epitomised the unfair and corrupt Cambodian judicial system.
By edition deadline yesterday (September 23) there had been no further developments.