City authorities began the destruction of more than 40 houses in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district on Thursday, after the residents lost a court battle to a landowner.
Starting from around 6:30 am, homeowners looked on in tears as some 60 workers with axes and hammers began dismantling wooden houses and heavy machinery began knocking down concrete houses.
The destruction stems from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling in favor of a single landowner, Khun Haing, a former minister for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, who claims legal title to some 8,000 square meters in the northern Phnom Penh neighborhood.
Contacted Thursday, Khun Haing declined to comment, saying only the eviction was due to the decision of the court.
Some 42 families had contested his claim to the land, beginning in 2003, but lost their claim to a lower court in 2004.
“We are undertaking this action on the verdict of the Supreme Court,” said Khlang Hauth, governor of Russei Keo, who added that city authorities had waited this long in order to give people time to relocate. “In the name of the authorities, I am very happy to carry this out,” he said.
However, many homeowners failed to move, and some said they were recently allowed to buy property and construct homes despite the court’s decision.
Forty-two-year-old resident Kun Sunlok said her three-story concrete home, worth an estimated $130,000, would be lost.
“I’m very sad for this activity, and this house is equal to my life,” she said at the site. “I regard the authorities’ activity as very unjust for the people, 42 families. I have no place to live.”
Ngeth Thida, 42, said she had lived in her $80,000 home since 2005, and questioned why she was allowed to buy it if the court had already awarded the land to Khlang Hauth.
“He should oppose the construction of people’s houses,” she said.
Am Sam Ath, head of investigation for the rights group Licadho, said the eviction would seriously hurt residents in the neighborhood who had paid many thousands of dollars to construct large houses.
“Without permission from authorities to build these houses, it would have been impossible to build them so big,” he said. “The people have lost their houses and increased their poverty through the implementation of this verdict.”