PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Approximately 400 families are slated for relocation when City Hall moves ahead with a plan to build an underground reservoir at Boeung Trabek lake.
The project, when implemented, will further put pressure on City Hall and the government, as it is already facing several issues over relocation and more importantly, compensation as a result of lakes being filled up or closed for development.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the lake is important to control flooding in the city.
“This lake is important for storage of water, especially during the rainy season,” he said. “Thus, it is incredible that people still want to grab the city’s natural water reserves and look for a profit in the form of compensation.”
“If we do not build this underground reservoir, the city’s perennial flooding issue will become more complex and become increasingly difficult to control,” he continued.
Mr. Dimanche did not reveal the compensation amounts, but said that the authorities are collecting relevant data and conducting a census on families who live around the lake.
According to Article 16 of the land law of Cambodia, state public property is inalienable and ownership of those properties is not subject to prescription.
“Persons who enter into possession of public properties shall not have the right to claim compensation or reimbursement for expenses paid for the maintenance or management of immovable property that was illegally acquired,” says the Land Law of 2001.
An executive director of Cambodian NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) Ee Sarom said that there are about 400 families who will be affected by the development.
He said that it is similar to the case of Boeung Kak land activists which continues to be a problem and has become a flashpoint of discontent between the former residents and City Hall.
Mr. Sarom recognized that people will not get any compensation if they live or grab land or territory which is in the public domain.
“The people at Boeung Trabek however, have lived there since the 1980s, before the land law was adopted in 2001. The government has to give decent compensation for them,” he said.
He added that if people demanded too much, the authorities should create a culture of dialogue with the people to find a good deal and a win-win formula.
A landlord, Prum Chan Veasna, said that she has lived there since 2008. She has heard about the possible eviction from others, and believes that all house owners will get compensation, either in cash or alternate land.
She added that she will agree to leave if the government provides suitable compensation, because she doesn’t have enough money to buy a new house.
“This place is comfortable for us, it’s easy to do business, it’s near schools and markets, so if the government asks us to leave it will be hard for us to find a new place,” Ms. Veasna said.
She added that her rental premises cost about $1,000 to $2,000 per unit to construct, but her own house was built at a cost of $3,000.
Sor Sopunna, an international law graduate student at University Panthéon-Assas in Paris said that the problem of forced eviction is increasing and more and more people will challenge the government’s decision to relocate communities, even though it was the state’s right.
“Most people have known that they live on the public domain and that they can be evicted one day, but they cannot leave because of their economic situation.”
He mentioned that it does not only happen in Cambodia. Other developed countries also faced these problems, such as France and Germany after the Second World War.
He pointed out that the government cannot provide compensation at market prices because people grabbed state property, but “we depend on the mechanism of negotiations between state and citizens to find a suitable solution.”
Most people who live around the Boeung Trabek Lake are tenants. Landlords come to collect the rent each month. Some landlords have five to 10 premises for renting.
Ms. Veasna told Khmer Times that she and her relatives have 10 premises for rental. Her uncle gave her the land along the lake in a legacy.
An elderly woman, Choun Sokhon, said that the authorities painted a number on her house about two months ago. They reportedly told her that every house which gets painted with a number is going to be removed.
“If the houses are going to be removed, we will follow them and find a new place to live which is cheap and affordable for us,” she said.
An Expensive City
Chea Srey Leak, who has rented a house since 2000 with her husband said that most of the people living at Boeung Trabek are tenants. They have to pay around $30 every month.
“I still do not know about the new place to stay because it is hard to find a place to stay and it also expensive compared with our income.” Ms. Leak said.
Another elderly lady, Sin Nam, said “we will not do something to react to City Hall because it is not our land, so it depends on the house and land owner.”