Capital’s Largest Lake to Lose Over 500 Hectares to State, Private Sector

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Phnom Penh’s Tamok lake on May 20, 2020 (Hun Sirivadh/VOD)

More than 500 hectares, or about 16 percent, of Boeng Tamok, a natural lake in the northwest of Phnom Penh that is key for flood protection, is slated to be filled in and siphoned off to state institutions and private developers, government documents show.

Almost 300 hectares of reclaimed land from the lake are set to be handed over to the Defense Ministry to build a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces long-term strategic command base, according to a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and dated June 22.

The decision was made based on a request from Land Management Minister Chea Sophara. Both he and ministry spokesman Seng Lout could not be reached for comment earlier this week.

Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat said his ministry had requested land from Tamok lake be used for an RCAF military installation but declined to provide details.

“The government decided to hand [the land] over to the military to build a military base and when it will be built, we will see soon enough because this is a military matter. We cannot say more,” Sucheat said.

In a separate declaration dated March 13 and seen by VOD this week, the government said it would cut out eight hectares from the lake in Prek Pnov district’s Kok Roka commune for a central security department building for the National Police.

In 2018, the government designated 20 hectares of Tamok lake to the Phnom Penh municipality as a location for a market before claiming an additional 75 hectares to develop a public park. 

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said he was unavailable for comment on Monday and could not be reached on Wednesday.

According to another government notice dated April 27, 30 hectares of Tamok lake land in Kok Roka commune will be given to Kim Heang, the wife of tycoon and ruling CPP senator Ly Yong Phat, in exchange for 9.8 hectares of land in Phnom Penh.

The state will receive three hectares to the east of the Win-Win Monument located in Chroy Changva district’s Prek Tasek commune, two hectares in the area of the Garden City development, Ly Yong Phat’s 2,000-hectare satellite city project located 10 km north of Phnom Penh, and another 4.8 hectares at the former landfill site in Stung Meanchey commune, the notice states.

Heang is also required to compensate those who owned Tamok land, paying $5 per square meter, based on government policy and the terms of the land swap, according to the notice. Some land in Kok Roka commune is listed on realestate.com.kh for hundreds of dollars per square meter.

Suy Sophan, chairwoman of development firm Phan Imex, purchased 45.75 hectares of Tamok lake in Punsaing commune from local people, while an individual named Men Sok bought 7.71 hectares in Kok Roka commune, another sub-decree dated April 23, 2019 says.

A sub-decree dated October 25, 2018 grants 45.65 hectares of the lake in Punsaing commune to a person named Shi Jin Mou.

Since 1990, 16 of Phnom Penh’s 26 lakes have been filled while the other 10 have been partially filled, mostly due to the construction of boreys, residential housing and satellite cities, according to a 2019 report from urban land rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT).

Tamok lake spans some 3,240 hectares with more than 300 urban poor families living nearby who are at-risk of eviction or loss of livelihood, the report says. The lake, which is important for flood protection, fish and bird species, and as a natural freshwater reservoir, was declared state-public property in 2016.

Soeung Saran, STT’s executive director, said the government decided to fill in Tamok lake and transform the state resource without consulting civil society groups.

The government should carefully study the social, economic and environmental impacts before filling the lake and transferring the land to private companies and state institutions for development, Saran said.

“Boeng Tamok lake is a large lake in Phnom Penh and has a role in absorbing water. Partly, it serves as a fishery to the community around the lake,” he said.

“If possible, the government should keep that lake for the next generation and change it into a tourist area in the city that can aid people’s livelihoods, and actually, the people in Phnom Penh seem to lack public spaces nearby the city for leisure activities,” he added.

Water Resources Ministry officials could not be reached on Wednesday.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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