Eight shacks were demolished as development giant Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC) pushed ahead with its $3-billion satellite city project in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district on Friday, leaving the fate of another nine families hanging in the balance after they refused to take a compensation deal.
The cluster of shacks in Doeum Kor 2 village hugs the edge of a manmade sandbank that gives way to what were once abundant wetlands, but is now a desolate desert landscape spanning 387 hectares of the Chroy Changva peninsula.
On Friday morning, the 16 families left at the site argued with local officials and security guards who came to enforce an agreement reached the day before, when villagers thumbprinted documents agreeing to accept $500 from OCIC in exchange for moving off the land.
They initially said they had changed their minds and were willing only to move if they received $1,000 and were able to stay until after the Pchum Ben festival. Officials were not willing to concede, however, and by the afternoon, seven families had given in.
One by one their shacks, which bore the words: “Thank you, Prime Minister Hun Sen” in graffiti—a nod to 17 years living there undisturbed—were taken apart. It was a relatively simple task for the dozen or so workers, given that they were nothing more than lengths of wood and corrugated iron nailed together.
Atop a sandbank in the distance, a bulldozer began spreading more sand.
Former soldier Yan Yoeun, a 48-year-old double amputee, is one of those holding out for something better.
“I cannot accept $500, because after I leave here, that would make life harder than it is at present,” he said, adding that he has lived on the site since 1997.
“Even though the company and authorities will evict me, I will still stay on to get a better result than $500.”
He said he and the remaining families would like to be given small concessions of land on which they could farm.
In August, 31 families from the same village agreed to a compensation deal with OCIC, receiving housing in a nearby block of flats as well as market stalls. No such deal has been forthcoming for these holdouts, however.
Fellow amputee Khan Sokun, a 53-year-old former soldier who is also blind, appealed to Mr. Hun Sen to intervene.
“Please Samdech Hun Sen, provide a land concession for us to own,” he said. “We don’t want to live on private land, however, I am poor, so where can I go?” he asked.
Nearby, a mound of household items and belongings lay under a tarp, left there by workers who dismantled the shack of 48-year-old Khim Khan, who caved in and took the $500 because she felt she would not be able to push the company for more.
She feels it is not enough to create a new life with, and said she was worried the cash might be stolen from her as she looked for somewhere to sleep on Friday night.
The authorities gave the remaining nine families until 6 p.m. to accept the deal. Once that had passed, the deal was off and would not be offered again, district security guards at the site said.
Chroy Changva District Governor Klaing Huot said by telephone that the families were squatters who had been living on land they never had a right to.
“It was wrong for them to build here to live on this land,” he said. “We will take action, because we cannot allow them to stay any more.”
OCIC project manager Touch Samnang said the remaining villagers had only themselves to blame for shirking the company’s benevolence.
“They are lucky we offered to compensate them—we saw that there were disabled people, so we took pity on them,” he said.
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