Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The wrong side of the tracks

The wrong side of the tracks

The wrong side of the tracks

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040209_02.jpg

More than 200 families living along Phnom Penh's decrepit railway lines

are facing eviction and remain wary of developer's promises of

compensation.

Photo by:
SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

A Village 17 resident relaxes along disused railway sleepers Tuesday, but a new development could force the community's removal.

RAILWAY WORKERS

Land in Village 17 was originally granted to state employees working at the nearby Central Train Station in the 1980s before additional residents shifted to the area following a blaze at the Dey Krahorm community in the late 1990s. 

More than 200 families living along old railway lines west of Phnom Penh's central train station are facing "peaceful" eviction from their homes, according to local authorities, but affected residents say they are concerned compensation packages offered by the city may leave them empty-handed.

Village 17, which sits on a strip of land along railway lines in Tuol Kork district's Boeung Kak II commune, is slated for development by local company Phourng Phu Real Estate Co Ltd, pending municipal approval.

Phath Sambath, president of the League of Poor Communities at Toul Kork and a member of Prime Minister Hun Sen's bodyguard unit, told the Post the community's 247 families had agreed to leave the area voluntarily and had been offered a choice of either cash or replacement housing as compensation.

"We are not forcing them to move. We have asked them to volunteer to move," he said, adding that each family would be offered a flat in Choam Chau district or a one-off cash payment of "over US$10,000".

Village 17 - also known as the Sammaki, or Solidarity Community - was first settled in the late 1980s when municipal authorities granted plots of land along the train lines as housing for railway workers.

Meas Kimseng, a coordinator for housing rights advocacy group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said further settlements were created in the area after a fire tore through the Dey Krahorm community about a decade ago, but could not comment further about plans to develop the site.

A spokesman for Phourng Phu Real Estate Co said it had plans for a residential and commercial complex on the site, but was still awaiting planning approval from the municipality.

"We will develop this site into flat, apartment and business centres," the spokesman said. "For compensation, we will provide them housing, and most of them are happy to accept it."

Residents sceptical

While some residents said they were willing to take compensation in return for their land, others were sceptical of promises coming out of City Hall following the violent eviction last month of the Dey Krahorm community in central Phnom Penh.

"We are afraid that the authorities will cheat us, that they take us to see a beautiful house and when we agree to move, they will give us a different one," said local resident Kim Tich.

"Nobody wants to live on disputed land because we have seen what happened at Dey Krahorm."

We are not forcing them to move. we have asked them to volunteer to move.

Ouk Thy, another Village 17 resident, said that the authorities came to visit the community in January, saying the land was needed for development as green space and asking them to choose either housing or cash compensation.

"When we asked how much money they were offering, they said they were not sure," she said.

"[If] the government needs to develop this place as a garden, I will agree to move," she said, but added that people were likely to accept City Hall's offers, since "at the final decision, they will still move us".

Villager Mao Sophorn, who has lived in the area since 1979, said that because of the transient nature of the early railway settlements, the land grants had never been formalised by the issuing of land titles.

When asked about the legal status of the land, Phath Sambath said the situation was "very complicated" and that land titles had been withheld to Sammaki villagers because they were "temporary residents".

Following a closed-door meeting at City Hall Tuesday morning, at which Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema met with company representatives to discuss plans for the site, Phath Sambath reiterated the governor's hopes that the villagers would peacefully accept the  compensation packages offered.

"The governor agreed with the company's compensation offer, but we need the villagers to agree so we don't have to force people," he said.

Village 17 chief Pen Yuthnea declined to comment Tuesday.

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