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Villagers fence off disputed land

5 May

Firm Blamed Over Loss of 5 Homes in Collapse

5 May

Source: Cambodia Daily By Sek Odom | May 5, 2015

Six families were left homeless after a section of the Mekong riverbank in Phnom Penh collapsed on Sunday, causing their houses to plunge into the river. Local villagers claim construction work at a neighboring property owned by the Vattanac company is to blame.

At about 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, five stilted homes in Russei Keo district’s Kilometr Pram Muoy commune sank into the Mekong River when a chunk of land measuring about 20 meters by 10 meters gave way, villager Or Momsaid Monday.

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Five houses sink into the Mekong River on Monday, following the collapse of about 20 meters of riverbank in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district on Sunday.

 

“When I was nearly at my home, on my way back from the market, the house collapsed instantly and my children jumped out of it,” she said.

Ms. Mom and her fellow villagers blame compacting work about 10 days earlier at a neighboring property allegedly owned by Vattanac, a local conglomerate that invests in real estate. She said the work at the Vattanac site made the earth shake, which caused cracks to open up in her house. She said she complained to the company’s workers last week, but that they did not give her any meaningful help.

“They told me nothing would happen if I filled the cracks with cement,” she said.

After the houses collapsed on Sunday, 10 of the affected villagers protested in front of the property they say is owned by Vattanac.

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A woman inspects a collapsed piece of land along the bank of the Mekong River in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“Now we have no house to live in, so we asked Vattanac, through the commune chief, to give compensation of about $7,000, whether our house is big or small,” Ms. Mom said, adding that she and the other affected families were currently renting rooms in a nearby building as a temporary measure.

Commune chief Sok Sambath, who said that about 10 families lived in the affected area, said he did not believe the incident was caused by the construction but that he had passed on the compensation request to the company.

“The houses on the riverbank collapsed because of the way they were built…. They built the homes where they wanted. We never allowed them to build anything there. But I already told the representative of the construction site owned by Vattanac [about the requests] for the $7,000 compensation,” he said.

Vattanac representatives could not be reached for comment Monday. Another one of the company’s construction sites along Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay badly damaged a block of colonial-era buildings in 2011.

Logging complaint in works

4 May

Stung Treng Families Accept New Land to Leave Dam Site

4 May

By Chhorn Chansy ,The Cambodia Daily, May 4, 2015

Seventy families in Stung Treng province on Saturday officially accepted the government’s offer of new land in compensation for the farms they will lose to the under-construction Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam, becoming the first group to agree to the deal.

At least 16 of the roughly 800 families to be evicted to make way for the 400-megawatt dam have already accepted cash payouts of up to $20,000. But deputy provincial governor Duong Pov said Sunday that the 70 families from Sresranouk and Chrab villages were the first to take up the offer of land at a relocation site—5 hectares each and a 20-by-50-meter plot for a house.

He said the families also had a choice of receiving either $6,000 to construct a new house on the site or having a new house built for them by the Chinese company that is constructing the dam, Hydrolancang International Energy. Whichever option they take, the families will also be compensated for everything they are forced to leave behind, and will relocate starting next month.

“They are being compensated for their fruit trees, houses, pigsties, cow barns and the rest of their property,” Mr. Pov said.

With 28 percent of the dam already built, he said, the families had no choice but to move.

“The hydro dam has to go forward,” he said. “It cannot stop.”

Chea Kheng, a villager from Sresranouk, said his family was among the 70 to officially take up the relocation offer. He said those who had accepted the offer did not want to move but felt they had no choice.

“The villagers agreed to leave because the government is building the dam,” he said. “We’re concerned about flooding. There’s no choice.”

The 5 hectares he is accepting for the move will be much more than the 1.5 hectares he has now. But Mr. Kheng has not seen the new site and said he was worried that it might not be as fertile.

Kim Doeung, a community representative from Kbal Romeas village, another village set to be affected by the dam, said a little less than half of the 130 families in his village would take the government’s offer of cash and new land—if the government agreed to give them more money. He would not say exactly how much they want.

As for the rest, Mr. Doeung said, “They are worried about losing their traditional practices, their rotational farming, the graves of their ancestors…. They dare to die in the flood.”

More families accept dam relocation offer

4 May

Gov’t Blocking Montagnard Refugees from Asylum Process

2 May

By George Wright ,The Cambodia Daily, May 2, 2015

Government officials on Friday continued to deny any knowledge of the presence of 40 Montag­nards in Phnom Penh despite the U.N. and rights groups claiming the asylum seekers are in limbo after being told they cannot register with the Interior Ministry’s refugee department.

A statement released by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch and local rights group Licadho on Friday stated that the 40 asylum seekers have been blocked from registering as refugees and called on the government to give them access to the asylum process. 

“Forty…have managed to make their way to Phnom Penh by various routes. Some of them have presented themselves to the government’s Refugee Department, but been told they cannot be registered,” the statement said.

“Recently, others have been told they will not even be allowed to present themselves for possible registration. Six of them are children, one a 15-month-old baby,” it added.

Since the Montagnards, who claim to be persecuted by Hanoi, began streaming over the border in late October, 54 have been deported back to Vietnam.

Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Hu­man Rights (OHCHR), confirmed in an email Friday that the group of 40 had been unable to register and said the U.N. was in discussions with the authorities to allow the Montagnards to have their asylum claims reviewed.

Despite this, General Sok Phal, chief of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, claimed he had no knowledge of the group being in Phnom Penh and reiterated warnings he made to the U.N. on Wednesday that it could be breaking the law by assisting asylum seekers from Vietnam.

“We don’t know. You can in­form the U.N. be careful about the law, they must obey the law in Cambodia,” said Gen. Phal.

“Now Cambodia is the owner of the country, not the U.N,” he said.

The immigration chief cited sub-decree 224, which deals with the procedures for recognizing refugees or providing asylum rights to foreigners in Cambodia.

Licadho and HRW said the government is justifying its treatment of the Montagnards based on the 2009 sub-decree, which they argue was designed to provide a basis to deport 20 Chinese Uighur asylum seekers back to China.

The rights groups also suggest Gen. Phal’s threats to the U.N. are in reference to Article 29 of Cambodia’s 1994 Immigration Law against UNHCR personnel, which provides for imprisonment from three to six months to individuals who “provide assistance to or help conceal the transport of” an alien who enters Cambodia “without authorization” and re­mains “in hiding or disguise or by means of other subterfuges.”

In the statement, HRW Asia director Brad Adams called on the international community to urge the Cambodian government to refrain from deporting the group.

“If Cambodia’s donors don’t act immediately and forthrightly to stay the government’s hand, we may see a mass forced deportation even larger than that of the Chinese Uighurs in 2009,” he said.

“This would be a disaster not only for those returned, but for human rights generally in Cam­bodia, and the government should know it will pay a big diplomatic price if it goes ahead with such an outrage.”

Ratanakkiri Villagers Protest Over ‘Safe Hill’ Land

1 May

By Aun Pheap ,The Cambodia Daily, May 1, 2015

About 300 ethnic Lao villagers protested in Ratanakkiri province on Thursday against a Vietnamese company that is clearing land that locals use as a “safe hill” during times of major flooding, villagers and a rights group said.

The Hoang Anh Lumphat company has an economic land concession of more than 9,000 hectares in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district, according to rights group Licadho. After protests by villagers last year, the company agreed to return about 1,400 hectares to them. However, the villagers are now asking Hoang Anh Lumphat to spare 500 additional hectares so that they can keep their hill, where they flee for safety when the nearby Srepok River floods during the rainy season.

“The villagers gathered on the cleared land this morning and posted wooden sticks to demarcate the boundaries of the land, which stretches along the Srepok River,” said villager Dam Lean, 57.

“We have protested many times to take the land back because villagers always use this hill to escape from the floods during every rainy season, but the company has not agreed with the villagers’ demands.”

District governor Kong Srun said that authorities had already returned a total of 1,457 hectares of Hoang Anh Lumphat’s concession to the villagers, who live in Thmey and Sre Chhouk villages in Chey Uddom commune, and that further negotiations were not possible.

“We will invite all villagers to a meeting to tell them that we are not able to find a solution for these people, because the government already granted the land to the company,” he said.

Chhay Thy, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the company was using the land for a rubber plantation. He said villagers filed a complaint with his group in 2013 seeking help in preserving the hill, but that so far, the company had refused to entertain their request.

Hoang Anh Lumphat could not be reached for comment. The company’s registered business address is at the same location as the head office of Vietnamese conglomerate Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) in Vietnam, but HAGL has denied that Hoang Anh Lumphat is its subsidiary.

Soldiers say main mission is stopping refugees

1 May

HRW urges withdrawal from refugee deal

1 May

Land Activist Groups Converge on City Hall

30 Apr

Source: Cambodia Daily By Ben Sokhean | April 30, 2015

About 50 residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Chhouk village protested in front of City Hall on Wednesday against the ongoing efforts of local authorities to evict them from their homes.

Russei Keo district authorities accuse some 600 families of squatting on state land and have repeatedly ordered them to leave, but the families claim they have the right to live there and are refusing to move.

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Boeng Chhouk resident Touch Sam On speaks with reporters in front of Phnom Penh City Hall on Wednesday during a protest against Russei Keo district’s efforts to evict him and about 600 other families from their homes. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

According to the villagers, the authorities’ last attempt to move them came Monday when deputy district governor Chea Pisey arrived with district security guards to prevent them from making repairs to their homes.

“We were just replacing our old palm-frond roof with a zinc roof because of the rainy season,” said Touch Sam On, who joined the protest in front of City Hall on Wednesday. “But the authorities claimed that I was living illegally on state land so I had no right to repair my house.”

Mr. Sam On said the deputy governor then gave him three days to tear down his entire house, sparking Wednesday’s protest.

The protesters rallied in front of City Hall for several hours and were prevented by security guards from entering the compound to deliver a petition asking the municipal government to intervene on their behalf. They eventually left and headed for the National Assembly, where the opposition-headed human rights commission did accept their petition.

At City Hall, the Boeng Chhouk group was joined by about 60 other activists who had already been evicted from the city’s Boeng Kak neighborhood and had come to demand more compensation.

The city evicted some 3,000 families from Boeng Kak to make way for CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin’s high-end real estate project, for which he paid the city $79 million to secure a 99-year lease of the area in 2007.

Families were offered a choice between an $8,500 payout or $500 and an apartment on the outskirts of the city, options the evictees said were unjust.

“We got little compensation and were forced to leave; we had no choice,” said Sear Nareth. “They stole our land. If there is no more compensation, we will not stop protesting.”

From City Hall, the Boeng Kak evictees headed to the site of their old homes—now a construction site—and protested there until about noon.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the municipal government could do nothing for either group as the Boeng Chhouk families were squatting on public land and the Boeng Kak evictees had already received compensation.

“We cannot solve their problem because they already got compensation,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t want them to be rich, but we can’t afford it.”

 

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