Residents of a Boeung Kak lake community joined a gathering in Phnom Penh on Monday to mark World Habitat Day, as their homes continue to be inundated with the sand and mud of a land development.
Residents say land developer Shukaku, Inc., has increased the pace of its fill operations, pumping dredge into the lake as it continues on a $79 million project, putting about 3,000 homes at risk, despite repeated protests.
“Villagers are facing homelessness,” said Ty Pisey, a 28-year-old lakeside resident. “Now the company is pumping mud, sand and water, flooding my house up to the window.”
Residents have made complaints to City Hall, the National Assembly, the Senate and the Council of Ministers, and they have protested in front of the house of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Kong Chamroeun, Hun Sen's cabinet representative for the lake issue, said authorities have received the residents' complaints, but city officials must now study the complaints and review the situation before making a decision.
A spokesman for Shukaku, which is owned by Cambodian People's Party Senator Lao Meng Khim, said the company was continuing to fill the lake because it had not been ordered to stop.
The company has paid about 500 families compensation to relocate outside Phnom Penh, but many others have refused, claiming they do not want to leave the city or that the compensation offer is not enough. Meanwhile, since early 2008, the 300-hectare lake has continued to fill.
Khun Serey, a 53-year-old former lake resident, said she has already been forced from her home by the pumping.
“I took only my clothes, but everything else in the house I could not get out, because I had no place to put them,” she said. “No authorities have come to help solve my problem. I have no house to live in.”
Fifty-one-year-old resident Khy Reth said her house was flooded up to the windows, despite legal protests and a visit from district officials. “The company is gearing up to pump more and more,” she said.
The Human Rights Task Force, which advocates for residents around the lake, said in a statement Monday that Shukaku is pumping mud deliberately to force out the residents, who have undergone “ongoing harassment and intimidation.”
The group called for an immediate halt to the pumping and that the rights of residents to protest be protected.
Meanwhile, to mark World Habitat Day, Christophe Peschoux, head of UN's human rights office in Cambodia, addressed the residents and some 400 other participants at the Phnom Penh Cultural Center. He said in general people must be given the rights to land and housing. He called on a halt to the forced evictions. Such evictions have become a chronic source of disputes in Cambodia in recent years.