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French Students Protest Eviction of Poor

More than 60 French students at Phnom Penh’s Lycee Francais Rene Descartes international school held a peaceful demonstration Thursday against a city-ordered eviction of Cambodian families living on the school’s property or in shanty homes adjacent to it.

The students gathered in front of the school, near Wat Phnom, Thursday morning, some of them beating large drums or water buckets, others shouting in French, “Please give a fair solution for the eviction.”

Phnom Penh municipal authorities last year ordered the 37 families—many of whose members work at the school—to leave the adjacent property, which they plan to turn over to the French. The city fenced some of the families out of their homes on Tuesday and issued a 30-day eviction warning to them on Thursday.

Students said Thursday many of them had formed close relationships with the people living either in the school’s fourth floor or in an abutting plot of land.

“If the Cambodian government wants to evict them, they should pay a fair solution,” one of the students, who asked to be identified as Romando, said.

The city has offered each family from $5,000 to $10,000 in compensation and will give them 32 square meters of land in Boeung Tumpuon commune in the city’s Meanchey district.

Seng Vutha, 37, a security guard at the school who has lived in the compound since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, said he was not against the move, but he needed higher compensation and a larger plot of land.

“With more land, it is easy for me to build a house,” he said. “If we compare the land prices today, they are very high. If the government pays me $5,000, I can’t buy anything for living.”

Tung Sok Lim, a spokesman for the French Embassy, said the French government plans to renovate the school, which has been in operation since 1951.

Daun Penh district’s deputy governor, Sok Penh Vuth, said he was not forcing an eviction on the families.

“Right now, 50 percent of the 37 families are happy to receive the compensation,” he said. “But there are still 50 percent more. We will try to persuade the people to understand the government policy.”

The compensation was a high price, he said, because some of the families were now living on just 2 square meters of land, sharing one bed, on the fourth floor of the school building.