Government officials have once again addressed the public to clarify a move to relocate thousands of people living on the Tonle Sap lake in Kampong Chhnang province to a 40-hectare plot of land.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan in a press conference yesterday said some critics continued to accuse the government of allocating the land to undocumented migrants from Vietnam.
“The government is not giving 40 hectares of land to Vietnamese people – we want to tell Cambodians not to worry about losing land,” Mr Siphan said. “We appreciate our people for thinking of our land. We are all in it together to protect our nation.”
He added the people being relocated to the land are Cambodians, not Vietnamese nationals who cannot own land in the Kingdom.
“It will not affect our social security…they will be managed by Cambodian laws and the people who will manage them are also Cambodian – do not be concerned about it,” Mr Siphan said.
The government is currently relocating a total of 2,397 ethnic Vietnamese families and 2,188 Khmer Cham families living on the Tonle Sap lake.
It said it was doing so to address environmental issues surrounding the lake, but ultimately its goal is to make the lake a tourist attraction.
Sun Sovannarith, deputy provincial governor and leader of a working group tasked with relocating the families, said the government is aiming to finish sometime in 2020.
“The purpose of relocating them from the floating villages is because we want to protect natural resources, the environment and biodiversity because Tonle Sap provides benefits to people,” Mr Sovannarith said.
He noted the government wants people’s living standards improved while providing better public services.
“We will [beautify the lake] from being full of floating houses to a tourist attraction because it is surrounded by a mountain and it has islands visitors can take boat rides to visit,” Mr Sovannarith.
In May, Rhona Smith, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, visited people at the floating villages in the Kingdom and called on authorities to ensure that all temporary and permanent relocation sites have necessary infrastructure.
“Any relocation site must have ample water, sanitation, electricity, a transport infrastructure and offer access to an appropriate livelihood to support an adequate standard of living,” she said at the time.
Kampong Chhnang provincial Governor Chhour Chandoeun last month said provincial authorities planned to relocate them last year, but were delayed due to a lack of proper infrastructure, such as roads, schools and markets at the site.