Fifteen more hectares of one of Phnom Penh’s “last lakes” will be filled in to make way for government buildings, according to a decree signed two days before authorities arrested environmental youth activists campaigning for the lake’s preservation.
Mother Nature activists Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phuong Keorasmey were arrested on Thursday while planning a campaign video of Kunthea marching alone from Wat Phnom to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house to raise awareness about Tamok lake. The lake, in the city’s north, has been highlighted as one of just two major wetlands left in the capital, vital as a flood protector but “on the brink of elimination” due to urban development.
In a Council of Ministers decree dated September 1 and circulated over the weekend, the government approved new buildings for the National Committee for Disaster Management, Cambodian Human Rights Committee and Cambodian Mine Action Authority on an area of the lake in Prek Pnov district’s Kok Roka commune.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said the new buildings were necessary, and the lake would only ever be partially filled, with plenty of it left for the natural treatment of sewage runoff.
“We have a clear plan,” Siphan said. “[We’ve] evaluated its impact to flow and the filtering of polluted water before flowing into the river.”
Affected residents would be relocated to the outskirts of the city, he added, though he said he could not answer questions about part of the lake being transferred to private use.
The latest approval follows 30 hectares of the lake being handed to Kim Heang, wife of tycoon and ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat in April; 300 hectares granted to the military in June to construct a base; 8 hectares in March to the National Police; 95 hectares in 2018 to City Hall for a market and park; and about 100 more hectares bought by or granted to three individuals, land development company Phan Imex’s chair Suy Sophan, Men Sok and Shi Jin Mou.
Prak Sophea, a representative of 190 families living around the lake, said she strongly opposed its development.
“People grow lotus, fish … these people survive through Boeng Tamok,” Sophea said. “We want the government to keep this lake because this lake doesn’t belong to anybody. This is our ancestors’ natural resource.”
Without the lake, people living around it would lose their incomes, she said, and asked that the government provide land titles to those living on what was currently classified as state land.
Additional reporting by Nat Sopheap