Residents of Phnom Penh's Sras Chak community on the northern edge of Boeung Kak lake said yesterday that officials forcibly damaged their homes by claiming that the land they live on belongs to Shukaku Inc., a private property developer owned by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin.
The residents, however, said that they have been living on the land for more than twenty years and that they seek proper compensation, for the damage done to their homes.
Chhit Sokun, 47, owner of a twin rowhouses, whose backyard was bulldozed into , told VOA Khmer that her family has occupied the land since 1990s.
“I bought it from a soldier in 1992, and in 2010 the Phnom Penh Municipality said they sold this land to a company to invest,” said Sokun.
On Monday, dozens of local officials and policemen blocked the road around the disputed area. Reporters and human rights group were barred from entering the heavily-guarded area. Two excavators were deployed to tear down the backyards of disputing residents.
"It is painful," Sokun said. “I bought this land. I did not get it for free or claimed parts of the lake freely like others did. I would give it back without regret had I received it for free. But, no, I bought it from a soldier.”
The residents sought to meet with Shukaku Inc. to negotiate for compensation.
So Leng, 65, whose house and backyard were also partly damaged, hopes that they will finally get a reasonable compensation from the company.
“We have lived here for ages, and they said we do not have rightful ownership. The company that just arrived suddenly received rightful ownership,” she said. “Please help me to reason it, I am the land owner. Even those who lived in the water get compensation, but I have not.”
Another resident who identified herself only as Tob, 35, and sells construction materials, also sought compensation.
“We are not going against the company. [We just] ask that [the company] please give us reasonable compensation. We cannot allow you to just destroy our homes because we bought this land,” she said. “We have been here since the company was not born.”
Kan Vannak, police chief of Sras Chak commune told VOA Khmer that he was not aware of the incident.
“Why didn't you ask those who blocked the road yourself? Why do you ask me who knows nothing about it?”
Seung Senkarona, a spokesman for human rights group ADHOC said that authorities should try to negotiate peacefully with the residents before destroying their houses.
“We know that this kind of strategy does not benefit anyone but rather affects law enforcement. It shows that Cambodia uses aggressive interventions and it also affects citizens’ rights.”
Neither Phnom Penh municipal spokesman, the district chief or Shukaku Inc representative could be reached for comment on Monday.
Shukaku Inc's plans to drain and develop the former inner city lake have been one of the city’s most controversial developments in recent history. It has resulted in the complete filling in of the former lake and affected 4,000 families living in the area. The development has also drawn strong international criticism.