City Hall yesterday oversaw the demolition of a building used as a makeshift home in the Borei Keila area as some of its residents were detained in the Prampi Makara district office to avoid confrontation.
Deputy Governor Mean Chanyada and City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey led the operation, sealing off the area from human rights groups and journalists as authorities used four excavators to knock down the building. Several zinc-roofed homes nearby were also demolished.
Mr Chanyada declined to comment yesterday, while Mr Measpheakdey could not be reached for comment. Lim Sophea, Prampi Makara district governor, also could not be reached for comment.
Sar Sorn, a representative of the Borei Keila community, said City Hall invited members of 12 families to the Prampi Makara district office to find a solution for them over the long-running land dispute.
“All of them were brought with a promise to solve the problem, but they were not allowed to leave,” she said.
She said she used to protest on behalf of the community and her family, but after years of waiting, she finally gave up last week when she was offered a home by City Hall.
“I previously protested with seven families. Four families, including mine, each received a four by five-meter home in Andoung village in Prek Pnov district’s Kork Roka commune,” Ms Sorn said. “I decided to take this resolution because it is very hard to get one.”
She added that the authorities on Sunday arrested five residents. They were sent to the Prey Speu rehabilitation centre in Dangkor district. Ms Sorn said the move was done ahead of yesterday’s operation.
“Please provide a resolution for them, please do not arrest them because they have small children to take care of,” she said.
The Borei Keila dispute began in 2003 after the government gave Phanimex, a construction company, the right to develop 14.12 hectares of community land.
Rights group Licadho previously said it was done under the government’s Social Land Concession programme. The company promised that it would take 70 percent of the land for investments, and develop the rest for homes for 1,776 Borei Keila families.
However, the company was only able to build eight out of 10 promised apartment buildings due to high costs, Licadho said.
In 2012, police and military forces evicted about 380 families from the area and relocated them to Kandal province.
Only a handful of families remain today. They live in make-shift homes near the area’s rubbish dump.
Phnom Penh Governor Khuong Sreng said City Hall provided resolutions to four or five Borei Keila families last week.
“[Recently] we provided resolutions to four or five families,” Mr Sreng said. “City Hall provided a home to each family in Andoung village in Prek Pnov district’s Kork Roka commune.”
When asked about the detained residents, he said he has yet to receive any information.
“I did not order them to arrest any villagers,” Mr Sreng said.
Nhem Sreynith, one of 13 residents detained, said over the phone while at the district office that the residents were detained because the authorities did not want to instigate a protest that would interrupt their work.
“Some district officials brought residents and detained them at the district office because they were afraid of protests as they demolished the building and the surrounding zinc-roofed homes,” Ms Sreynith said. “We were detained from 6.40am to 5pm and they did not provide us with compensation.”
“I just wanted to live with my husband and children there because we do not have money to buy a house,” she said, adding that the detained included a dozen women and a man with mental illness. “Please find a resolution for us because we are very poor.”
Soeng Sen Karuna, spokesman for rights group Adhoc, yesterday said his organisation was not able to properly monitor the situation because journalists and civil society members were prevented from entering.
“If they had nothing to hide, why did they not allow NGOs and journalists to monitor?” Mr Sen Karuna asked.
“We will continue to observe this case and I am not sure whether the residents were detained or not,” he added. “I want the authorities to provide appropriate resolutions for them and please do not hurt them.”