Roundtable Discussion On "Development of Red Land Area and Solutions" 13 January, 2009

Club of Cambodian Journalists on 13 January, 2009 Organized a roundtable meeting to discuss a topic of “Development of Red Land and Solutations”. It is the hot issue between the Phnom Penh municipality and thousands of villagers living in a so-called Dey Krahorm or Red Land, opposite of the National Assembly, the government said it belongs to the state. The Phnom Penh municipal authorities planned to remove the residents from the 3.6 hectare site to a new location in the city’s outskirts. The move has been under careful monitoring from local Human Rights activists.

Speaking in his remarks, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeurn said the municipality wants to develop the site located nearboth the National Assembly and the Russian embassy. “There are good places around the area so we want to develop it and we pay the residents compensation. They can take either a new stone house each family in a new location or cash,”he said. According to him, the government allows a local private company, 7NG, to develop the area to be a high-end commercail and residential place.

In 2006, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government signed the 3.6 hectare area over to 7NG for development. Since then dispute has erupted between the residents and the municipal authorities alongside with the company, leading to serious violence and a few villagers were arrested and jailed. The arrests and imprisonment were criticized by human rights organizatins.

While the villagers need between US$30,000 and US$100,000 based on their respective size of houses, 7NG has asked the municipality to lobby the residents to accept a house in the outskirts or to take US$20,000 plus 777,700 riels for each family in the exchange for leaving voluntarily, Mann Chhoeurn said.

The municipality said hundreds of families living in Dey Krahorm area are illegally housing because the site is the public park or the state property and non of the residents has land title and house ownership issued by the competent authorities. Up to the day of the discussion meeting, 91 out of 1,466 families did not agree to move until they receive proper offers or good incentives from the company. Actually, most of the families who voluntarily left the area in December got only US$15,000 each with 777,700 riels, Mann Chhoeurn said. He warned that the municipality would take tough action to relocate the villagers from the site and pay only US$15,000 each family if the deadline comes into effect. The municipality has a green light from the government for forced eviction, he added. Mann Chhoeurn affirmed that the new location is much better than Dey Krahorm because the municipality has supplied clean water, electricity, school and market to the new settlers in the new area. “It is completely different from Dey Krahorm where our brothers and sisters are facing a lot of challenges such as pickpockets, snatching, drug abuse, and gangsters and they somtimes get interference from the authorities as they are illegally housing,” he said.

Some Human Right Activests who also participated in the meeting encouraged all sides the municipality, the company, and the villagers to find good solutions to settle the problems in order to avoid forced eviction.

Dr. Chhim Phalvarun, Director of Institute for Civic Education, said that villagers should think about the law if they have rights to live in the area while the authorities and the company should think about proper settlement. He asked the villagers to think if they can illegally live in the disputed area based on the land titles in the current land law. Chhim Phalvarun also urged the municipality to find solutions through peaceful negotiation.

Mr. Pen Samitthy, President of Club of Cambodian Journalists, hosting the meeting said the discussion aimed to provide opportunity to all sides involving in the issue to discuss so that they can find the common solutions for the public interest in both short-and long-term development.

Phnom Penh, 13 January, 2009
Club of Cambodian Journalists