Civil Society Groups Call for Ending the Persecution of the Samrong Tbong Community

Residents in Samrong Tbong Village in Phnom Penh‘s Prek Pnov district.

Phnom Penh — Thirty-eight civil society organizations, including the Cambodia Center for Human Rights and the Sahmakum Teang Thaut Organization, on Jan. 25 issued a joint statement requesting that the authorities stop threats and persecution of the families of Samrong Tbong Village in Phnom Penh‘s Prek Pnov district.

According to the organizations, the 76 families, community members and representatives have been threatened, accused and sued for defending their land and homes that are located in Sangkat Samrong, In their statement, they are asking that the authorities issue at last these families’ land ownership documents as these residents may face forced eviction if the authorities continue to sell sections of Boeng Tamok Lake to private companies and individuals.

Evictions that should not legally take place since, based on the sub-decree of determining the lake's area no. 20, dated February 3, 2016, the Samrong Tbong community is not within the land set aside for road widening, the statement read. People have been living in that area since 1996,  and should be allowed to remain on their land and in their homes without being threatened by authorities and forced to leave their homes, the organizations said in their statement.

The threats that community members have been subjected to in order to provoke forced evictions are serious violations of human rights laws, the right to adequate housing and other rights, the NGOs write.

“We call on the state authorities to immediately stop all forms of persecution and threats on the representatives and members of the Samrong Tbong community,” the organizations stated in the joint statement.

They also requested that the court dismiss previous accusations filed against the 18 community representatives, and urged the government to grant legal land ownership as well as on-site development rights, and halt the forced evictions of the Samrong Tbong community.

The government spokesman Pen Bona on Jan. 28 could not be reached for comments.

Prek Pnov District Governor Thim Sam An denied the accusations made in the statement, saying that the authorities have not persecuted or used violence against residents of the Samrong Tbong community. Instead, he said, it is the authorities who were insulted when they went to explain matters to residents.

While denying the accusations, Pnov said that the residents of the Samrong Tbong community should voluntarily relocate to a site set up by the authorities. The Samrong Tbong community's current location is unsafe for residents because it is a roadside location, which can lead to accidents at any time, he said.

“I am sending a message to residents in the Samrong Tbong community: Please collaborate with the authorities and move to a nearby place that the authorities have prepared for you,” Sam An said. “This is a good choice because we will prepare the land and everything legally for them.”

According to the joint statement of the civil society organizations, the government has cut off sections of Boeng Tamok lake in the Samrong Tbong community about 80 times in a row, equaling to 74.92 percent of the lake area.

Since 2019, the community has asked for help from national groups, and from the authorities of Sangkat Samrong Tbong, of Khan Prek Pnov, of Phnom Penh. They also have appealed to the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, the Senate, and the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. But as of now, they have yet to see the situation resolved.

Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, the story was translated by Chhuon Kongieng for Cambodianess.

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