Residents of Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building were ferried to Chroy Changvar this week to inspect a new housing development, in what they said was an attempt to coerce them into moving out of their prime real estate.
Property developers have long eyed the valuable land amid suspicions that there are plans to evict the residents with the Phnom Penh Municipality’s assistance. However, City Hall has denied any involvement in this latest bid to convince them to vacate.
Resident Neang Tha, 40, said real estate brokers from an unidentified company took her and her neighbours to the peninsula to see apartments in the Overseas Cambodian Investment Company’s (OCIC) Borey Rong Rerng development.
“They told villagers who live at the White Building they could move to a house in the Rong Rerng area,” she said. “They brought us to visit the houses there, but the residents did not move.”
Tha’s neighbour, Sy Noun, 30, said Rong Rerng was too far away from the city centre. “There is no hospital, no school, and no market like near the White Building,” she said.
Village chief Hun Sarath said almost none of the residents wished to move to Rong Rerng.
“If they are going to move, the villagers need a government project with compensation, not negotiations with the company, which did not have a clear plan.”
Sok Sil Phanha, project coordinator at OCIC, confirmed residents from the White Building had been to inspect the apartments in Chroy Changvar in the past few days.
But he said he did not know if the company had sent representatives to entice White Building residents to move.
He denied suggestions OCIC – which is currently embroiled in a separate land dispute with Chroy Changvar residents – was eyeing the White Building as a development opportunity.
Municipality spokesman Long Dimache yesterday denied any government plan to oust residents.
“The residents at the White Building suspected the government planned to move them, but City Hall has no plans to evict them,” he said.
However, he reiterated that the historic site – constructed in the 1960s and today sporting a dilapidated facade – was structurally unsound.
“We have warned the people living there, many times, that the building is not safe,” Dimache said. “We can have a discussion between the authorities and them to seek a solution.”
Ee Sarom, executive director of Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), a local urban land rights NGO, said he would welcome such a meeting.
“I would like to see the company, the community and the local authorities sit down together and listen to what the community wants,” Sarom said.