More than 200 families are refusing to leave their homes along the Tonle Sap river in Russei Keo district, saying they would be willing to relocate only if authorities provide fair compensation.
Around 261 families in the district’s Toul Sangke I commune say they are facing imminent eviction by local authorities, after some houses were demolished on Monday without notice. The houses are wedged on a strip of state land between the National Road 5 and the Tonle Sap river.
Commune residents said they received three eviction notices this year, and offers of compensation have edged up amid protests and negotiations. The offers vary, but have increased for one resident from around $250 to $750.
Twenty residents met with district officials on Wednesday to again negotiate higher compensation but were sent back with no resolution. Nov Nim, 36, was one of these residents. He was at work on Monday when he was informed that authorities were tearing down his home.
He rushed home and, with the help of other residents, was able to stop the demolition leaving a partly-standing house.
“They threatened me that if I dared to stop them, they would arrest me and take me to the Russey Keo district office,” Nim said.
He said officials initially offered him $250 to leave, which increased to $500. Another offer of $750 was made at the Wednesday meeting. He said the money was not even enough to recoup the $1,000 investment he made in building the house.
“I don’t want a lot of money, I just want some money to rent a place to stay and live on for at least a year or two,” he said.
Larng Sokheng, 66, said she had lived in the village for 10 years and did not want much. She would be willing to leave for $10,000.
Mork Sokhann, who was at the Wednesday meeting, said she had been living on the land for 30 years and the offers of compensation were too little and all she wanted was to afford to live somewhere else.
She also pointed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s speeches saying that if people lived on land for five years they could claim ownership to it. “We are the same Khmer, we are not other nationalities, this is khmer oppressing their own khmers, the rich oppress the poor,” she added.
Hun Sen has often spoken about the 2001 Land Law which states that if “any person who, for no less than five years prior to the promulgation of this law, enjoyed peaceful, uncontested possession of immovable property that can lawfully be privately possessed, has the right to request a definitive title of ownership.” This only applies to residency claims before the 2001 law came into force.
Russei Keo deputy governor Prach Seiha, who was at the Wednesday meeting, refused to answer questions on a phone call and instead asked a reporter to visit the district office.
Reach Phavoeurn, the Toul Sangke I commune chief, said around five families had settled there in the 1980s, with the community growing to around 400 families currently. She said the community was split into two and given recognition by City Hall but only for temporary settlement.
She said the land was state land and was going to be used to develop the road and build a garden. She alleged that most of the community was engaged in using and selling drugs, prostitution and gambling, and were polluting the river as well.
“They have been living there for many many years without costing them a cent but they still don’t try to find somewhere else to live but they take the government hostage to request land and where can we get the land to give them?”