Kampong Chhnang provincial authorities are planning to relocate hundreds of Cham and Vietnamese residents living on the Tonle Sap river to dry land by the end of 2019.
Provincial Governor Chhour Chandoeun on Thursday said that residents have already been informed regarding the decision.
Mr Chandoeun said yesterday that the decision was made to ensure a clean environment and avoid anarchic living conditions on the river.
“Settlements on water are not acceptable in the eyes of the law. Normally, the settlement needs to have [deeds],” he said. “There’s the issue of waste disposal that affects the environment and water biodiversity. Because of this, we are facilitating with those living on the water to move them to land.”
He said that the date of the relocation and the destination could not yet be confirmed, noting that hundreds of Vietnamese migrants and ethnic Cham families are living on the river.
He added that provincial authorities have created six committees tasked with the relocation. Deputy provincial Governor Sun Sovannarith declined to comment yesterday.
However, Mr Sovannarith told local media last week that the residents will be given land along the river by the end of 2019.
He said that more than 2,000 families will be relocated to a proposed 40-hectare land plot in Rolea Ba’ier district’s Svay Chrum commune.
San Chey, Affiliated Network for Social Accountability executive director, said that the move could be seen as either a threat or a blessing for some on the river.
Mr Chey noted that some on the river might be more reluctant to move due to their dependence upon the river. He said that the authorities should persuade them to leave the river and relocate to land.
“They have to also ensure that Khmer and Vietnamese people live separately in order to avoid problems,” Mr Chey said.
Vieng Yang An, an ethnic Vietnamese who migrated to the area in 1982, said that people living on the river depend on it to make a living. Mr Vieng said that the proposed location is too far from the river.
“The new place has no house and no electricity. We have already received information from the authorities, but we haven’t agreed to go,” he said. “We asked for land near the river, otherwise we’ll just go back to Vietnam.”
Toth Kimsroy, a provincial coordinator with the Minority Rights Organisation, said that the move should be supported.
However, Mr Kimsroy said that authorities should consider placing the residents on land nearby the river in order for them to sustain their livelihoods.