Roadside houses such as these at Andong Teuk must go, says Koh Kong's provincial governor.
T he Koh Kong governor has issued a letter informing people living near river crossings along Route 48 that they will have to shift their houses without compensation to make way for the expansion of the road.
The September 15 letter signed by Governor Yuth Phouthang told roadside residents they must move their houses 25 meters from the center of the existing road and 150 meters away from the four rivers between Sre Ambel and Koh Kong.
All houses and shops within the affected areas near Sre Ambel river, Sre Ambel district, and in the town beside Tatay river in Koh Kong district must be removed by October 10, the letter stated. Those beside Andong Teuk river, Botum Sakor district, and in Trapaing Rong river, Koh Kong district, have until October 31 to remove their houses.
The order is being enforced by district and village officials and some residents have already begun dismantling their homes and businesses.
But while most residents are accepting the edict, some are unhappy at the lack of compensation and say the road expansion will leave them homeless.
"It doesn't matter for the rich families, they can move any time; but for my family, money is the main problem," said one resident in Andong Teuk, on condition of anonymity.
The resident said members of his family had been living by the road for more than 20 years and moving their large wooden house would cost around $1,500. He said the authorities should compensate the family for at least half that amount.
Phouthang denied the province or government was liable for any compensation, saying people living along the southern stretches of Route 48 originally came there to sell food to passengers on the river ferries, and had promised to move when the authorities needed the land for development.
Chhoeung Chantha, a lawyer for Legal Aid of Cambodia at Koh Kong said she was aware of the road expansion but her office had not received any complaints from residents.
Chantha said that in land acquisitions, the government normally has a policy to provide cash compensation or an alternative plot of land.
"I did not know if those families [affected] have been discussing with the provincial authority or not," she said.
According to On Pheareak, governor of Botum Sakor district, no land titles had been issued for the people living near the ferry crossings, since they had only been living there temporarily.
"It is the government's policy to develop the road," said Pheareak. "We don't have any compensation to provide them."
The district governor also said Botum Sakor authorities and local NGO WildAid were discussing plans to organize plots of land for the families who would be displaced. The new sites will be 3km away from their current homes, and each family would receive a plot of land measuring 30m by 100m, Pheareak said.
While Thailand funded an upgrade of the road linking National Road 4 with Koh Kong and the Thai border in 2002, recently it has been difficult to travel in the rainy season.
The long-awaited expansion of Route 48 will use a "soft loan" of more than $19 million from the Thai government for the construction of the road, with Thai company Sahakan set to resume bulldozing once the wet season finishes.
Another Thai company, Navarat, has been given the contract to construct the four bridges and started surveying and preparing for work three months ago.
Phouthang said the project was expected to be completed in 2007.
Nuttavudh Photisaro, Minister with the Royal Thai Embassy, had doubts about how many people actually lived by the roads in the ferry towns before the plans for the upgrade were laid out several years ago.
"There might be many opportunists who moved there after learning about the construction plans," Photisaro said.
However, he said if some residents had been living there for long periods, forcing them to move without compensation was not in order.
"The Cambodian authorities should investigate if the people really lived there before the road was developed. If they did, the Government have to deal with it," said Nuttavudh Photisaro.