Hundreds of people are dismantling terraces, awnings and other structures in downtown Siem Reap to make way for road expansions — which for some will mean tearing down large chunks of their homes and businesses they say they have rights and titles to and on which they depend.
Residents say they have been given until Wednesday to clear space for the road expansions, after provincial authorities gave 10 days’ notice on September 23, a deadline originally due to expire on Friday.
Many accept the inevitability of the project, but still bristle at the financial pit they will be left in once they make way for the public works.
Ith Sokhoeun, 66, a retired hospital director, said he was marked to lose seven meters of his eight-meter-deep house and pharmacy after a recent measurement by local officials.
“I don’t want to demand anything. I may do nothing, because it’s the Royal Government’s plan, and they will do it,” Sokhoeun said. “We don’t know what to do. It’s just that our land is not on the roadside like some people allege.”
Unlike some other residents, who admit they may have encroached onto public roads, Sokhoeun said he had titles for the land and house, which was built in 1996. He had sent the documents to the provincial land management department hoping they could find him some relief.
He said he felt deep regret, but had to accept that this was development.
His 65-year-old wife, who declined to give her name, said she hoped they would be able to keep more of their house than the one-meter sliver that would be left according to official measurements.
“I’m very sad, you know,” she said. “I have nothing. I’ve worked since ’79 and ate only corn with rice. Since retiring, I have nothing left. I must ask the authorities, and hopefully we can keep a portion.”
Mother-of-three Chin Sok Theanvy, 36, said her Wat Bo Road house was seven-by-nine meters, with a wooden upstairs and concrete downstairs. She said she was told to dismantle three-quarters of it.
She was offered $1,000 in compensation, which would be about enough to cover the demolition work, Sok Theanvy said.
The house was built in 1992, and it was only in 1997 that authorities told the family it was on state land, she said.
“It’s the authorities’ mistake,” she said. “I’m not happy about the loss.”
She didn’t need compensation for the land itself, but the loss of her home, which she had invested so much into, would be devastating, she said.
“My life must become poor again in order to save money to build a new house.”
For the past five years, Sok Theanvy has also rented out a space nearby to run a restaurant. That space, currently six meters deep, will be cut in half, and she would not be able to continue her business there, she said.
Tola Kanal, 40, the landlord of Sok Theanvy’s restaurant, said his own lodgings would be safe from the road expansion, but pointed out that it was such a difficult time for many of the tourist town’s residents.
“Because this is Covid time, as you know, everyone is shouting loudly for help,” Kanal said.
International tourism has cratered amid the global coronavirus pandemic. Foreign visitors to the city’s principal attraction, Angkor Archaeological Park, plunged 98 percent in September compared to a year earlier, according to Angkor Enterprise.
Arrivals to the country in June fell from 450,000 last year to 12,000 this year, according to the National Bank.
In its September 23 notice, the provincial administration said 100 km of roads — 38 streets in total — would be upgraded at a cost of about $150 million. Some of the upgrades involve the widening of roadways.
Provincial hall spokesperson Sok Thol said it was a good time for the expansions because there were no tourists to disturb.
“When they come back, we’ll already be done,” Thol said.
The measurement process was completed on Friday, and residents must carry out demolitions according to the Wednesday deadline set by officials, he said.
About 80 percent of the residents required to do work had already complied, he said.
“No compensation,” Thol added. “They live on roadways illegally, and they built by abusing urban laws and regulations. […] If they have properly registered, we will check their legal documents to see whether they’ve built in the right space or have cheated for more.”
The plan cannot wait, he said, adding that authorities would carry out the demolitions themselves for any stragglers.