Friday, 10 July 2009

Municipal official threatens Group 78 families: villagers

Residents of Group 78 prepare sweet potatoes for sale on Thursday. Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun met with 10 families from the community during meetings in which residents said he threatened them with forcible eviction if they did not leave by a July 17 deadline.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

After individual meetings, 10 families say a Phnom Penh deputy governor tried to bully them into accepting inadequate compensation to leave area.

PHNOM Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun told residents of Group 78 that if they did not leave their houses by July 17, 500 police and military officers would be called upon to forcibly evict them from their homes, residents told the Post after a Thursday meeting.

"[Mann Chhoeun] did not allow us to say anything," said Li Navy, a 42-year-old Group 78 resident. "He tried to force us to decide between one of three choices to move from our houses ... before July 17 or the police will bulldoze our houses."

Mann Chhoeun confirmed he had met with 10 families from Group 78 on Thursday morning and that, if the families did not move by July 17, he would be forced to "take administrative measures and bulldoze the community on the 17th".

The families met with Mann Chhoeun one at a time, and as each family left, they told the Post that they were threatened by the deputy governor.

"[Mann Chhoeun] told us if we did not move ... our valuables would be destroyed on July 17 by bulldozers," Li Navy said.

[Mann chhoeun] told us if we did not move ... our valuables would be destroyed.

The government is offering the community a choice of three compensation packages. The residents can choose from a 5-metre-by-12-metre plot of land in Trapaing Anchanh and US$5,000, a 4-metre-by-7-metre flat in Borey Sensok and $1,000, or $8,000.

Market value for the land is much higher than the government's compensation offers.

The 260-metre-by-45-metre plot of land next to the new Australian Embassy sits on prime inner-city real estate.

According to an independent property valuation by Bonna Realty, the land is worth more than $15 million, or about $1,300 per square metre.

Of the 86 families in Group 78, only eight have agreed to accept government compensation, Mann Chhoeun said, setting up a potential showdown between police and community members next week.

Residents claim that they have occupied the land since the 1980s and have repeatedly sought legal recognition that they own the land, according to the Group 78 lawyer Yin Savat.

The 2001 Land Law states that those living on a plot of land for five years prior to the passing of the law can apply for official ownership.

But Mann Chhoeun told the Post that the community was living illegally on state property and property owned by the Sour Srun company.

"Those people took public land and land owned by the Sour Srun company to be their own," he said.

"An identity card and a family book is not enough to certify the land they are living on is their homeland," he added.

Mann Chhoeun said Phnom Penh was being generous with their offers.

"We pity them, so we will provide them with some land and money so they can live in another place," he said.

According to the Cambodian constitution, the government has the right to evict people from either state or private land for the "public interest", but Article 44 of the Cambodian constitution stipulates the government must pay "fair and just compensation in advance".

"If the Phnom Penh authorities decided to bulldoze the homes of villagers without appropriate compensation ... they will violate the nation's constitution and the land law," Yin Savat said.

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