At a groundbreaking ceremony in Russey Keo district yesterday, Phnom Penh’s governor announced the city would immediately convert a disused railway into a new road, an announcement that came as a shock to affected families who said the road – let alone compensation – had never been discussed with them.
The road was first alluded to in April by Prime Minister Hun Sen on the same day he nixed plans for a multi-million dollar airport expressway – which was to be built along a west-bound railway line – due to public outcry.
Seemingly hoping to preemptively counter similar unrest, Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong yesterday told some 100 attendees at the ceremony that the new north-bound road would be to their benefit.
“The project to build a new road along the railway will reduce traffic jams on National Road 5,” he said, adding it would help facilitate rubbish collection and provide a faster route in emergencies. “I appeal to the villagers along this street to join and cooperate together with City Hall to run this project successfully.”
Phnom Penh Public Works and Transport Department director Sam Piseth said the road would stretch 4.5 kilometres along the train line, from Street 70 near the former Boeung Kak lake site, to Kilometre 6 in Russey Keo, where it would connect with National Road 5.
The road would span approximately 16 metres – seven metres for each lane, with a 2-metre-wide median strip, Piseth added. “We will spend the next four months constructing it,” he said.
Long Chandy, 40, a representative from the local Klaing Saing community, said while there had been many rumours circulating about different projects, they had never materialised until now.
“But yesterday, when the City Hall officials came to announce and open construction in this area, we were in a panic,” he said.
“They just spoke about the development and construction; they did not tell us about any compensation,” he said.
Villager Sim Vireak, 42, said he was fearful he would lose his home.
“My house is completely affected if they expand seven metres for the road on each side,” he said. “I am very disappointed that they did tell us about any compensation or any resolution.”
Soeung Saran, executive director at urban housing rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said that about 1,000 families from nine communities would be impacted, and despite their repeated requests for information, had largely been ignored until the sudden unveiling of the plan for the road.
“The consultation or discussion about compensation should happen prior to the actual development taking place,” Saran said.
“So it seems the possibility of providing fair compensation is very low,” he said, adding that backing residents into a corner was part of a pattern by authorities. “I see a similar example in Boeung Kak [lake]; if you don’t take the option they provide, you will be left with nothing or they will start pumping sand into your house and making your life difficult until there is no option.”
However, Phnom Penh municipality spokesman Mean Chanyada yesterday insisted solutions would be found and the problem was “not a big deal”.