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City Hall to Evict Phnom Penh’s River Communities to ‘Preserve Environment’

FILE - Fishermen and families living on boats along the Mekong riverbank in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 30, 2018. (Khan Sokummono/VOA Khmer)

Phnom Penh City Hall on Wednesday released a directive ordering floating homes along the riverbank to be dismantled and for all construction activity to be stopped as a measure to “preserve the environment.”

The new notice said the order was issued to preserve the ecology and water quality of the area and improve the city's aesthetics. Residents living in floating homes were given one week to move while authorities would not be responsible for any actions taken.

Klaing Hout, Chroy Changvar district governor, said his officials were informing residents about the new directive but declined to comment on what would happen or how the authorities planned to evict people living along the river.

“In principle, this is not relocation. Relocating means moving from one place to another. For now, this is about not allowing the use of the river, fishery lots, or inhabitation of the area. It is related to environmental concerns,” he said.

Klaing Hout said district officials were counting the number of homes along the river and any construction activity taking place in the area.

VOA could not reach City Hall spokesperson Meth Measpheakdey for comment on Thursday.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director for monitoring at rights group Licadho, said that the authorities should find an amicable solution that worked for both the government and residents.

“It is not totally [the residents’] fault because the authorities did not prevent the construction in the first place,” he said. “So, this is an issue which needs to be resolved thoroughly.”

Om Savath, executive director at Fishery Action Coalition Team, said that while it was good to protect the riverbanks, people still depended on fishing for livelihood and they should receive a proper solution.

“It is good that City Hall is making the arrangement. However, for a proper solution, because [the people] do not have land, the government should play an important role in sorting out the issue,” he said.

In 2018, the Cambodian government evicted and relocated hundreds of ethnic Vietnamese families living along the Tonle Sap despite the community expressing reservations to preserve the river’s biodiversity.