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Tough times for fire families

Tough times for fire families

TUOL Kork district officials have ordered 45 families living along the railway in Boeung Kak 2 commune to dismantle their newly built homes and move back 10 metres from the tracks.

Kith Vannak, a 31-year-old Boeung Kak 2 commune resident, said the affected families had been notified of the order via a September 21 letter signed by Tuol Kork district governor Seng Ratanak.

“We must disagree with his order to pull down our houses because we cannot become homeless,” he said. He said that the letter made no mention of a deadline or potential compensation.

In March, a fire destroyed 178 homes in the commune, as well as dormitories at Neak Von pagoda, leaving 257 families, 181 students and 90 monks homeless.

During a period of about three months following the fire it appeared that some – or all – of the families would be relocated to Dangkor district, where they would receive 5-by-12-metre plots of land. Then, in June, authorities announced that the relocation was cancelled, and said that families would be limited to rebuilding on 3.92-by-5.5-metre plots at the fire site.

This would have been a downgrade for most residents, so in defiance of the order, most families responded by rebuilding homes in Boeung Kak 2 commune equal in size to those destroyed by the fire. In many cases, families were forced to take out loans to rebuild.

“My family originally agreed to relocate, and then we struggled to survive for three months living in a temporary shelter with a ruined tent roof,” said Kith Vannak.

“Now, we have many debts ... totalling about US$2,500 because we had to construct a new home.”

Tuol Kork deputy district governor Thim Sam An said yesterday that the residents had been warned again and again not to build a “slum” at the fire site.

“We told them to refrain from building homes close to the railway and ordered them to rebuild their homes 10 metres back from the tracks to make way for an access road intended to reduce traffic jams,” he said.

“At present, we have not made any provision to pay compensation to those people, but we also will not abandon them.”

Long Thea, another resident affected by the announcement, said it was strange that authorities had only ordered those affected by the March fire to pull down their homes when many other people in Phnom Penh live within 10 metres of the railway tracks.

“It is an injustice for those of us who live at the fire site near Neak Von pagoda,” he said. “We cannot agree to do as they have ordered.”

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