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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs                      17  August 2011

Hun Sen signs off on lake residents relocation

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Prime Minister Hun Sen has signed off on an offer of on-site relocation for Boeung Kak lake residents, perhaps bringing to a close an embarrassing chapter in the development of Phnom Penh’s urban landscape.

Hun Sen signed a sub-decree on August 11 that set aside 12.44 hectares of Srah Chak commune in Daun Penh district to be “offered to the people” for on-site relocation.

The sub-decree ordered relevant ministries and Phnom Penh City Hall to “implement this sub-decree effectively”.

Community leaders yesterday responded positively to the offer, which was about 2.5 hectares shy of their demand. “We are very happy . . . we have been waiting many years for this decision from the leader of the government,” Nun Sokheng, a representative of villagers in Srah Chak commune’s Village 23, said last night.

Roughly 1,000 families, who have braved bloody rallies and remained steadfast in their epic fight for fair compensation or on-site housing, appear set to benefit from the deal.

Protests over the development had become a near-daily occurrence in Phnom Penh, but a seemingly far more persuasive form of pressure came last week when the World Bank announced its suspension of millions of dollars in funding to Cambodia. The international body announced it would not provide any new lending to Cambodia “until an agreement is reached with the residents of Boeung Kak lake”.

Three projects worth US$128 million were marked as awaiting approval.

Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said yesterday it was “good information for the Boeung Kak residents” and “very intelligent of Premier Hun Sen that he can find a good solution for helping these people”.

Reports that representatives from the private company developing the lakeside began buying up homes three days ago, in anticipation that the sub-decree would result in increased land values, has raised questions about the bargain.

Sia Phearum said people who community members had recognised as representatives of Shukaku Inc had bought lakeside houses at prices ranging from $30,000 to $200,000.

“When the government disseminated this decree … the company tried to buy out the villagers,” he said, adding that he did not know how many homes had been purchased.

Shukaku, which is owned by ruling- party senator Lao Meng Khin, was granted a 99-year lease in 2007 to develop the 133-hectare site. It later joined with Chinese firm Erdos Hong Jun Investment Company, which has a 51 percent stake in the project.

The development has displaced an estimated 15,000 people, many of whom felt forced to accept meager compensation or resettlement options.

Residents were offered a mere $8,500 in compensation or apartments in Dangkor district and payments of 2 million riel ($495), despite the fact that some held plots of land worth as much as $150,000.

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