REPRESENTATIVES of 68 Tuol Kork families left in limbo by a March 8 fire expressed frustration after a brief meeting Monday at the district hall, during which officials presented them with the same two housing options offered immediately after the blaze, contradicting recent statements by the district governor.
The meeting, which was scheduled for 2:30pm, began at 4:10pm and ended three minutes later after a brief statement from Tuol Kork deputy district governor Thim Sam An.
“We have two choices for all of you,” Thim Sam An told the assembled families. “One, you can rebuild your home on 3.92-by-5.5 metres of land according to the authorities’ specifications, because right now some of you are making a slum. Secondly, you can agree to relocate to 5-by-12-metre plots of land in Dangkor district’s Choam Chao commune.”
The families, who live in Tuol Kork’s Boeung Kak 2 commune, were told the same thing in the weeks after the blaze, which destroyed 178 houses as well as 31 dormitory rooms in Neak Von pagoda, leaving 257 families, 181 students and 90 monks homeless.
Tuol Kork district governor Seng Ratanak, however, said late last month that all of the families would be made to relocate to the Choam Chao relocation site once 68 holdout families dropped their resistance to the plan.
“We will move them to the new place when the 68 remaining families agree to go as well,” Seng Ratanak said. He could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The abrupt conclusion of Monday’s meeting prompted a 15-minute protest by disgruntled residents that was broken up by police in front of the district hall.
Duong Sothea, 36, a representative of the families, said the meeting was a disappointment, and reiterated his vow to seek intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen later this week.
“We hoped that we could get a good result from the meeting today, but all of our hope disappeared when the authorities closed the meeting after about three minutes without allowing us to ask even one question,” he said.
“The authorities must think of us as brutes or rubbish to treat us like this and accuse us of creating a slum,” he added.
Kong Saly, a 62-year-old resident, said she had hoped that authorities would clarify when they could measure new plots of land at the site of the fire so that she could rebuild her house.
“We want to know when they will take measurements at the fire site and distribute land to us so we can construct homes. I am very hurt because the authorities did not say anything about this issue,” she said. “Furthermore, it is terrible that they accused us of building a slum on the fire site.”
The proposed 3.92-by-5.5-metre plots would be a downgrade for many families, though officials have said that the reduction is necessary in part to accommodate access roads.
A May 27 letter distributed to the families said homes that had been built since March 8 before officials could demarcate plots would be torn down by “administrative measures”. The letter was signed by Boeung Kak 2 commune chief Van Sareth.
Neup Ly, a community empowerment officer for the Housing Rights Task Force who attended Monday’s meeting, said he doubted that the families would ultimately be allowed to stay on the their current land.
“I think the authorities are not really willing to allow these 68 families to stay at the fire site,” he said. “They want to relocate all of these people to the outskirts of Phnom Penh.”