Residents of Phnom Penh’s White Building began moving their belongings to new locations yesterday, as others dug in and said they had no intention of leaving their homes.
Packing up her possessions in a first-floor unit, 69-year-old In Saream recalled happy memories of 30 years in the property.
She said she had always enjoyed good communication with her neighbours and loved the sense of community.
“Frankly speaking, we are sad about what is happening to this building. My children are grown up and I don’t have any grandchildren. We residents would always go downstairs and sit together,” she said.
“On June 10 they will celebrate a party for residents. I will come here to burn incense and pray that everything will be fine.”
Despite not wanting to leave, Ms Saream said she had found a new home near Niroth Pagoda in Chbar Ampov district, costing a similar price to her unit at the White Building.
Sem Manith, a 35-year-old resident of the building, said her family had reluctantly agreed to sell to Japanese developers Arakawa for $1,400 per square metre.
However she said the money would not be enough to buy somewhere else nearby.
“We are moving reluctantly and with a heavy heart. I was born here. My parents have lived here since 1979,” she said.
Last week Land Minister Chea Sophara said the co-owners of 464 out of 492 units had agreed to sell to the developers or take an apartment in the renovated building.
Those who have agreed to leave are eligible to move out any time from yesterday until July 15. They will only be paid for their properties once they move out.
To help people with moving, the minister said his team would give each family $100, plus one sarong and one krama scarf.
Mr Sophara said they would also throw a party for residents on June 10, with dancing and Khmer noodles.
However, nearly 20 families are still refusing to leave their rooms. They claim the price being offered by the investors is too little to buy another home in the city centre.
A resident of the ground floor, Heng Phearun, is one of those who is staying put.
She said: “The money provided by the company is too little to buy land or a house. We would like to ask the company to increase the price a little bit more.
“We would leave if they did that but we will continue to stay here if not. I am not blocking the development, but just ask them to increase the price some more.”
However Land Ministry spokesman Seng Lot called on the last 20 residents to sign the deal, insisting there would be no rise in the price.
He said: “This is the best opportunity that people are going to get from Arakawa.”
Sia Phearum, the executive director of the Housing Rights Task Force, also called on the remaining residents to accept the money for their units and move out, since the majority of people in the building had agreed to sell.
“They have to follow the majority. If 96 percent have already agreed to move, the remaining cannot oppose it, or it would be unfair for those who have already left,” he said.
The Land Ministry has granted the development of the White Building to Japanese company Arakawa.
A study on developing the building showed it will cost up to $80 million, including temporary accommodation for its residents.
They plan to make the building 21 floors, with three floors of parking, one floor for stores and five floors for accommodation – which they claim will be 10 percent larger.
Arakawa will own everything from the ninth floor up and it is unclear what they plan to put there.
In a meeting on May 12, the majority of residents agreed to sell to the investors after months of negotiations.
Mr Sophara posted on his Facebook page yesterday to say that 80 co-owners in the building had already moved out and received their cash.
He urged local authorities and people in areas where residents moved to welcome their new neighbours.