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Tears, looting as forces move on Boeng Kak

Tears, looting as forces move on Boeng Kak

E ight-year-old Bopha Phong wept

as soldiers and police tore down the wooden shanty hut her family called

home.

The normally shy little girl plucked up the courage to cry out,

"It's not right," as she tearfully watched the security forces looting the few

possessions the family had as they destroyed the shack.

Her father Or

Somoeun returned from his job as a youth leader with the Ministry of Education,

Youth and Sport to find his family devastated and his home, on the dirt track

leading to Boeng Kak lake, in ruins.

The $50 and 110,000 riel he had been

saving under the bed to buy his wife and five young girls somewhere better to

live had been stolen, he said.

But it wasn't just cash that had gone.

Little Bopha told him that the soldiers and police had even taken such mundane

items as pans, mats, a blanket and an ax and his collection of 70

books.

Somoeun, 33, who hasn't been paid his $18-a-month salary since the

start of the year, said: "She has been crying a lot since it happened. I have

given four of the girls to my brother to look after.

"But we are going to

stay here until the government does something to help us." He had been paying

$20 a month rent for a small plot, supplementing his meager government salary by

moonlighting as a moto taxi driver.

Among the ruins of his shack, Somoeun

has driven four stakes into the ground and hung sheets between them to give his

wife and Phong a tiny measure of privacy. He has given his other daughters to

relatives to look after.

The security forces, some heavily armed, pulled

down around 100 shacks along the dirt track leading to the lake amid widespread

allegations of looting.

You Sen, 69, says her husband and four children

were killed by the Khmer Rouge. She is looking after a seven-year-old girl

abandoned by her parents. She is another of the victims of the crackdown on

squatters.

Sen bravely smiles as she tells how the security forces took

her clothes and 60 kg of rice she had been hoarding as her shack was torn

down.

All she has left are the clothes she stands up in, her charcoal

stove, a mosquito net and her bed.

She says: "There's nowhere else for

me to go I will have to stay here." As she speaks cars roar by carrying the

well-to-do down to Thai restaurants by the lake which will be left untouched

.

Sen is relying on the charity of her neighbors such as Somoeun to get

enough food to eat. They are among at least a dozen families who have stayed on

after having their homes smashed and like most Boeng Kak residents they are

returnees from the border camps.

Two days after the crackdown along the

dirt track, a loud speaker truck caused more consternation among the rest of the

residents in Boeng Kak area, who number several thousand.

A taped message

told them they too had to dismantle their homes and get out within days.

But for many that would be impossible. Residents have lovingly built

homes which would not look out of place in the West. Some are even made of

bricks and mortar.

Sitting in his neat wooden house Choun Narin, 32,

tells how the loud speaker announcements reduced his eight-months-pregnant wife

Sok Phea to tears.

He said: "This is the same as the Pol Pot time when

people were forced out of their houses on to the street."

Like many of

the Boeng Kak residents, Narin used the skills he learned at the border camps to

get a job with UNTAC.

Then he put his savings from that to buy a plot of

land for $2,000 and spent another $1,000 building the house himself. It boasts

its own toilet, bathroom and kitchen, concrete floor and brick

foundations.

Father-of-two Narin, who now works as an interpreter for the

charity Christian Outreach, said: "We came here like many returnees because it

was the only place we could afford."

His friend Ouch Sovanna, 34, tells a

similar story. He spent 13 years living in five different camps on the Thai

border before he returned to Cambodia, with his wife. They now have three

children.

Sovanna was able to build an even grander house, which sports a

concrete drive, on an eight by 20 metre plot. He spent $8,000 in the process.

Souvanna, who now works for UNICEF and Australian Aid for Cambodia,

said: "This land had passed through four or five pairs of hands by the time we

bought it. People have been living here for a long time, at least since

1985.

"As far as many of us who came here from the camps were concerned

we were buying it legally. The deal was approved by either a khand [district]

official, or a policeman.

"If the government now decides to remove us

they have to give us some compensation."

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