- August 17, 2019 2:41 AM
- May 12, 2021 3:18 AM
- December 22, 2020 7:28 AM
The homes of 11 families were torn down by Prek Pnov District authorities after residents refused compensation packages that they deemed inadequate to relocate as Boeung Tamok is filled in
PHNOM PENH--Fresh fears of forced evictions have returned to Phnom Penh after Prek Pnov District authorities dismantled the lakeside houses of Boeung Tamok residents on the morning Feb. 28 to make way for a range of private and government developments.
This morning, some 50 government officials demolished 11 houses of residents on Street 131, Ponhea Pon Commune, Prek Pnov District on the northwestern side of Boeung Tamok. The 11 families whose homes were destroyed reportedly refused compensation packages offered by the government, which included $500 and a 5-meter-by-18-meter plot of land in Ponsaing Commune, to the west of Boeung Tamok.
Seng Oeurn, whose house was torn down this morning, decried the compensation packages, saying that they were inadequate and that the community did not wish to move.
“They did not inform us beforehand,” Oeurn said. “So far, 12 families have accepted the compensation because of fear and intimidation from the authorities, but the 11 families do not go because we have been living here for 20 years. And what can we do with $500?”
He said that the authorities came at around 7 a.m. armed with knives, axes, and cutting machines, which they then started using at around 8 a.m. to dismantle houses. One home was fully demolished, along with the wall connecting it to another resident’s house, according to Oeurn, who added that authorities destroyed tables set out for a wedding reception.
“They were so cruel,” he said. “They destroyed some of the tables of the wedding party.”
The authorities left at around 11 a.m. as citizens blocked the road using barricades to prevent the authorities from coming further, Oeurn said. The crowd dispersed later in the morning to make way for traffic.
“I don’t know what they are going to do next. I’m worried that they will come again and we will lose our houses. I don’t know what to do to make a living after leaving this place,” he said.
Oeurn said he has requested an intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen and his son, Hun Manet, who is expected to take over Cambodia when his father steps down. Only these powerful people can help the vulnerable residents of Boeung Tamok, Oeurn said.
One of the officials that residents said was involved in the dismantling of houses, Nuon Bun—who serves on the council of Samrong Commune—said he did not know why he was ordered to evict people, but that he was only carrying out orders.
He told reporters to speak to Prek Pnov District Governor Sok Sambath for answers, but Sambath—when contacted—simply hung up the phone on reporters.
Seang Muoylay, director of urban rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut’s (STT) Housing Rights and Research Project, said the use of force by authorities was not a good option, noting that even if residents eventually agreed to leave, they would only do so painfully and without satisfaction.
Such use of force could lead to more violence, Muoylay warned, which would only exacerbate the situation. This would only cast a negative light on the authorities, Cambodian law enforcement and the people, he added.
“It is a good thing for the authorities to talk to the people by setting up a public forum to explain and answer any concerns of the people,” Muoylay said. “On the other hand, the authorities should stop evicting people who have been occupiers for a long time under the pretext of protecting the public property of the state, especially when the state still gives the land to other private individuals who are rich and powerful and who do not serve the public interest. It is not fair to all citizens in society.”
He continued that the compensation offered by the government was not an adequate option for the residents who had been enjoying the lake for over 20 years. At least, the compensation should be equal to what they were earning or enough for them to start new businesses and build new houses when leaving their current homes.
“They should think of how much capital should be there for them to cope when they do not have a new business and have to spend a lot during this transition period,” Muoylay said. “If we think about it from all angles, then we can think of fair compensation.”
STT released data on Feb. 10 showing that through 43 decrees, more than 2,000 hectares of Boeung Tamok—which totals 3,239.7 hectares—had been handed over to public and private interests as of December 2021.
Roughly 63 percent of the lake has been signed over to public institutions, private companies and powerful individuals, STT said, after Boeung Tamok was declared state-private property—which can be rented or sold by the government—in 2016 under Sub-decree No. 20.
Residents have long feared losing their homes, livelihoods and way of life around the largest remaining lake in Phnom Penh, which is currently being filled in with sand mined from the Mekong River.
Boeung Tamok spans across two districts, six communes and 25 villages, with some 1,000 people living off the lake by raising fish, growing aquaculture, farming and running small businesses, according to STT.