A senior human rights investigator says a land deal with the residents of the Borei Keila community needs to be closely scrutinized before it can be trusted.
The development company Phan Imex has said it will house 1,380 families from the neighborhood, but residents say the number of families living in the area before they were evicted reached nearly 1,800.
Land titling and ownership in Cambodia is a complex issue, following the forced exodus of cities under the Khmer Rouge and subsequent legislative neglect after people returned.
Residents of Borei Keila were forcibly evicted earlier this month, but many say they now have no place to go because Phan Imex failed to provide enough housing for them, despite a deal with the city to do so. Phan Imex was supposed to build 10 buildings to house evicted residents and built eight instead.
Phan Imex has said eight buildings are enough to house the number of legal residents from a 2003 survey.
“We need to investigate to avoid such problems from happening,” Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, told “Hello VOA” Wednesday. “There have been no investigations into whether the total number of people are more than 1,300 families, or more than that. And whether eight buildings are enough.”
The courts are where such claims and counter-claims should be pursued, not through violence, he said.
Hundreds of Borei Keila residents gathered to oppose the Jan. 3 forced eviction, throwing rocks and bottles at riot police.
Eight people were arrested. Then, some 30 residents who later gathered at City Hall to protest against the arrests were seized and held at an extra-judicial detention center. Twenty-two of those detainees escaped the center Wednesday.
Am Sam Ath said that some people were forced to accept land deals while they were in detention. Others had to agree to cease protesting.
The Borei Keila eviction came after a similar move by authorities in the Boeung Kak lake district of the city last year and that of the Dey Krahorm neighborhood residents in 2009.
Chhum Ngan, a representative of the neighborhood who was among those to escape the Prey Speu Social Affairs Center Wednesday, told “Hello VOA” later by phone that some people given homes by Phan Imex had never in fact lived Borei Keila but were instead the relatives of a local official.
She said she wants her original house back but could not get that from Phan Imex. Relocation sites at Phnom Path or Tuol Sambor will not do, she said.
“We can’t endure living there because there is no business there,” she said. “We have business only in Phnom Penh.”
Suy Siphan, the president of Phan Imex, said by phone that some so-called residents of the neighborhood were not residents at all and had been trying to cheat the company.
“Some pretend to cry, some pretend to be mad, but when their backgrounds are searched, they have only come to live there in 2010,” she said. “Some people play tricks. There were cyclo drivers hired to stay in the house for somebody. [Others] put up tents and lived by themselves and they wanted homes too. Some split [houses] into rooms that were to be considered [separate] homes. That’s the problem.”
Chhum Ngan disagreed. Phan Imex destroyed the homes, and with them much of the proof of ownership, she said.