Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sides dig in for B'bang squat battle

Sides dig in for B'bang squat battle

Sides dig in for B'bang squat battle

BATTAMBANG-Conflict is brewing within the governor's office in Battambang over

the building of a six-hectare commercial complex that will displace 30

families.

Bulldozers and tractors have already started clearing land and

building roads around the marshy pond called Boeng Chuk, which is ringed by the

impoverished families' thatch shanties, near the town centre.

The

development-which includes a large market place, a long-distance taxi station,

360 houses, and nine roads-was approved under an agreement signed by Battambang

Governor Ung Sami in June 1992.

But First Deputy Governor Serey Kosal

vehemently opposes the project, unless adequate compensation is given to Boeng

Chuk residents.

"The governor has decided to forcibly move the

people-maybe this week," Kosal said. "That is a mistake. He must go meet with

the people first and find a way to solve the problem. Otherwise there will be

trouble."

The businessmen behind the project are two brothers-Tan Kain, a

native of Battambang, and Tan Chhun, a French-Khmer- who trade under the name of

Kim Huot Heng Company.

Kosal, formerly the Funcinpec Party Chief in

Battambang, joined the governor's office in January.

According to Kosal,

in May 1993 the developer offered the governor's office 10 lots in the

development. Each lot is worth more than 25 damlung, or close to $10,000, Kosal

said.

"One or two lots alone would be sufficient [to compensate] the

people," Kosal said. "But where is that money until now? "

According to

Kosal, Sami is proposing to offer each family at Boeng Chuk a 10 x 20 metre

square plot of land outside of town, and 100,000 riel (about $40).

"I

think this will not be accepted by the people because the land outside of town

is not good for them," Kosal said. "They want a safe place to live. Also, the

money is not sufficient to re-build their houses."

The Post was unable

to contact the governor for comment.

Kosal said that some of the families

have been living at Boeng Chuk since 1983, with others arriving in 1987, 1991,

and 1993. "If some people don't want to move, that is their right," Kosal said.

"They are not there illegally."

The brothers deny that the families have

a right to live in Boeng Chuk. Kain said: "Most of the people are living there

illegally. They came from the Thai border in 1993."

As to whether the

brothers would compensate people displaced by the complex, Kain said: "This is

the problem of the government to solve. It's not my place."

Kain said his

company had not offered any lots to the governor's office to be used to

compensate Boeing Chuk residents. The project is being developed in partnership

with the government, who leased the land to the brothers in 1992, he

added.

Several families interviewed by the Post said that they originally

moved to Boeng Chuk in the mid-1980s, when the government evicted them from a

cement apartment building to build the Soviet Hospital.

"First they moved

us for the hospital, and told us to go somewhere else," said one resident, who

runs a radio and television repair shop out of his simple house at Boeng Chuk.

"We have no place to go."

Settlers said that police first told them to

move in August 1993. "They wrote a report and asked me to fingerprint it,

agreeing to leave-but I refused," said the resident, who declined to be named.

"The second time they came, several months later, they threatened to

throw us in jail if we didn't fingerprint the eviction notice," he said.

Members of the Battambang chapter of Adhoc, a human rights group, have

been monitoring the dispute and say will inform the National Assembly if

residents are not satisfied with the outcome.

A 38-year-old woman is

among those who do not want to leave Boeng Chuk. Also declining to be named she

said: "The human rights group said the government cannot move us because of

article 41 and 44 in the constitution."

Even though she cannot read, the

mother of five and market vendor,has attached a large poster, spelling out the

two articles, on the front wall of her house.

Another woman said she was

ready for a fight, despite being frail and 77 years old.

"If they try to

build their road in front of my house here, I'll hit them!" she said.

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