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SRP tries to thwart Boeng Kak lake development plan

SRP tries to thwart Boeng Kak lake development plan

All photosTracey Shelton

This view over Boeng Kak Lake is set to change later this year as the area’s new investors proceed with plans to drain and fill its waters making way for a new residential area.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers-with strong support from some voters in the Boeng Kak

lake area-are calling for an environmental impact statement and a halt to the filling

of the lake, though they admit little support for the idea exists in the National

Assembly.

"There is nobody taking care of the impact on the environment and living conditions

of the villagers in the area," SRP lawmaker Son Chhay told the Post.

"We need the government to suspend the operation of Shukaku Inc. temporarily

until there is a complete and transparent study of the environmental impact and the

resolution of problems for the people who would be suffering from the development's

plan," said Chhay.

Shukaku Inc holds a 99-year lease to develop 133 hectares of the Boeng Kak lake,

one of the last of the city lakes, and its surroundings.

Although the deal was signed two years ago on Jan 3, 2006, by Prak Sokhon, the CPP's

Secretary of State of the Council of Ministers, so far no development or fill has

occurred.

Minister of Environment Mok Mareth said the pipeline from the Tonle Sap river to

the lake to begin filling it during the dry season is now being constructed.

Chhay told the Post January 4 that his party agrees with the assessment by reknowned

architect Vann Molyvann that the preservation of Boeng Kak lake is critical to Cambodia's

future- both as a reservoir for excess rainwater during the flood season and as a

compatible residential community .

Loa Meng Khin, director of Shukaku Inc., and owner of local construction and land

company Pheapimex, and a CPP senator could not be reached for comment.

Khin is deputy chairman of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce and the owners of the

company have close ties to the Hun Sen family.

The Boeng Kak area has been a development priority for the city with the aim of improving

living conditions for residents, giving the area a metropolitan flavor with commercial

and residential zones and creating new boulevards, public transport networks and

green areas.

A source who asked not to be named who attended a meeting about the lake project

with government officials in December said Shukaku Inc. is expected to spend $79

million on development.

All photosTracey Shelton

A man harvests trokun, or water spinach, for sale at local Phnom Penh markets. Forty people currently dwell on a small submerged island in the center of Boeng Kak lake making 60,000 to 150,000 riel a day from their harvest, but new development plans will put an end to their trade and leave them homeless as plans to fill the lake look set to proceed.

Mok Mareth, CPP's Minister of Environment, and Lim Kean Hor, Minister of Water Resource

and Meteorology, both involved in monitoring the environmental impact, said they

favor the handover to the private developer.

Kean Hor said that two pipelines about 1.5 meters wide will be set up during the

sand dredging operation to move sand to the lake.

"Our committee will be monitoring closely the operation of pumping sand from

the river," Kean Hor said.

Mareth told the Post on Jan. 3 that his ministry is working with an independent consultant

known as Green Consultant (GC) to study both the ecology and related social issues.

"We need both-for the beauty of the city and the conservation of the environment,"

Mareth said.

"Our work is for the national benefit. We need time to study. If three months

is not enough we will extend to six months. The process of dredging sand to fill

the lake and the study of environmental impact would be working in the same time."

No support from the CPP

Chhay said that when SRP lawmakers protested the project in the National Assembly

last month they failed to win adequate support in the debate.

He said CPP lawmakers were concerned they would lose votes in the next election without

the development. Voting in the Boeng Kak lake community in the commune elections

in April was closely split between the CPP and SRP.

Chhay said the lake is protected under the Constitution of Cambodia as a state asset

that cannot be privatized.

"The money from selling lakes for privatization does not go to the state budget.

It is just bribery between a business owner and high ranking government official

of the ruling CPP," said Chhay.

Drainage pipelines

Kean Hor, who is also chairman of the Committee for Control of Natural Lakes, told

the Post Jan. 4 that Shukaku Inc. will set up the drainage system of canals to connect

to the main drainage system of the Phnom Penh Municipality. The water will go to

the main lake at Kob Srov north of the city.

He said the drainage system will affect more families in the area.

He said people "have to understand that Boeng Kak is no longer playing a role

as a natural reservoir for excess rainwater during the flood season because the lake

was already suffering erosion caused by the road and building construction in the

area."

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