Sitting in front of his wooden house in Group 78 on the Tonle Bassac riverbank, Lem Sombo looks for new faces, in case a human rights official or a journalist comes to ask about the potential eviction of his community.
The 54-year-old coconut vendor said he ignores his business these days, as he is focusing on how to protect his community from a very likely eviction in a dispute with a local company.
“We don’t feel like we want to earn our living at present, as we fear that our houses can be smashed down at any time,” said the father of four children. “I myself stopped my business to find ways to make sure we would be appropriately compensated for our property.”
The Group 78 community, located near the National Assembly and the Naga World Casino, houses 146 families on 1,170 square metres. The residents have been a subject of eviction by the authorities since 2006.
The municipality has claimed that these people are living illegally on a private plot of land belonging to Sour Srun Enterprise, Co., Ltd.
Mann Chheoun, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, addressed the community on his visit there last week, saying the municipality had no role to move people out of their homes, but was acting as an intermediary.
“The company owns the land and wants to file complaints against the people for illegally living on its property, but the municipality asks it not to do so,” he said. “We asked the company to take on a win-win solution.”
Each family is given by the municipality a 5-meter-by-12-meter plot of land, together with $1,000 as a compensation, for their leaving their homes.
However, Khuy Chhom, the brother of Sour Srun’s president, Sour Pheng, who is in charge of dealing with the issue, told VOA recently that the company has had nothing to do with the Group 78 community, and already granted the disputed land to the municipality in 2007.
An appraisal letter issued by the municipality to the Sour Srun company, dated Nov. 30, 2007, and signed by Phnom Penh Municipality Governor Kep Chuktema, says the company granted the municipality 13,341 square meters of land to build two lanes of road in the developed riverbank area, one of which runs across the Group 78 community.
Kep Chutkema has just said it may not be the time to think about the eviction yet.
“Probably, the city has to solve the problem, but I have not thought of the problem,” he said.
So far, approximately 60 families have voluntarily agreed to accept the offer for fear of getting nothing if they refuse. Among them, more than 10 families resettled on a plot of land provided in Trapeng Angchhagn village, Trapeng Krosaing commune, Dongkor district, more than 20 kilometers away from the city center.
The new location has no sewage system. Inadequate water and electricity supply is also a problem for the resettlers, although a new primary school, a health center and a makeshift market can be seen in the area.