About 30 armed guards descended on a leafy Chip Mong-owned gated complex on Monday evening after residents — including Acleda Bank CEO In Channy — protested a plan to fill in a water feature, with some homeowners hanging protest banners on their mansions.
“They came to remove the banners while I was looking after my two children,” said resident Por Punareay, who argued that she was within her rights to put a banner on her gate. “They were all wearing uniforms. … I still feel frightened.”
The residents are seeking to halt Chip Mong’s plan to fill a 10-hectare pond near the golf course on the property.
“We love the environment,” Punareay said. “But now we regret that we bought the house. … When Chip Mong came, they started to act like this and threaten people.”
A banner seen on Monday morning on the gate of one large house read: “Protect the lake and golf course in Grand Phnom Penh according to the Master Plan that was advertised.”
Previous owners sold the housing complex to Chip Mong in October last year, Channy said.
The bank executive and housing protester said residents had the right to put up banners on their homes. But the banners initially went missing on Thursday, and some plain-clothed armed men showed up to the neighborhood, he said.
“There was a threat with weapons, by displaying their small guns. We don’t know where they came from, but they took pictures of our houses while showing the guns in their holsters,” Channy said. “This is a threat and intimidation to frighten us who are living in peace. This area is in the center of Phnom Penh and the company dares to do this.”
About 140 residents at the Grand Phnom Penh, in Sen Sok district, have signed a petition to the ministries of land management and environment as well as the city governor to intervene, he added.
Representatives for Chip Mong Land, part of tycoon Pheap Heak’s sprawling Chip Mong Group, could not be reached for comment.
Sen Sok district governor Mov Manith hung up on a reporter, Land Management Minister Chea Sophara declined to comment, Environment Ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra would only say that he would check with his officials, and City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey said he was too busy to answer questions.
“When we met the company on the 10th, [representatives] said they will fill up the lake and if we did not go along, they would cut off our electricity,” Channy said.
Making changes in the gated community without consultation with residents was a breach of contract, he argued. But company representatives had told them the lake was the company’s property and it could do whatever it wanted.
Residents had bought into the borey because of the pond and golf course — these were important to them, Channy said.
“The atmosphere is of fresh air for relaxation and exercise along the side of the pond,” he said. “In other words, the pond is comfortable.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the previous owner of the borey.