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Fire Rips Through Village in Capital

9 Feb

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Tue, 09 February 2016, by and

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A woman cries as she sits under a makeshift shelter yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district after her house was lost to a fire. PPha Lina

The Chinese New Year kicked off in tragic fashion for scores of families in the Tuol Roka village of southern Phnom Penh, where a massive blaze destroyed 97 homes on Saturday night.

“We weren’t able to save anything, just the clothes we are wearing. Everything else was destroyed,” said resident Ley Yang, 27, the morning after the blaze.

Yang stood under a tarp atop the ruins of his charred home, where he lived with 18 family members. Like most residents of the Meanchey district community, Yang is ethnically Vietnamese.

Around them lay the utter destruction from an inferno that residents said began after midnight and spread quickly thanks to strong winds. It took nearly two hours for fire-fighters, who residents said arrived half an hour after the fire started, to extinguish the flames.

“We slept on the sidewalk after the fire ended,” added Yang’s aunt, Ley Vee.

Tuol Roka village chief Hor Yeing said yesterday that, miraculously, no one was injured, “but right now about a thousand people are homeless”.

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Later in the day, municipal fire chief Prum Yorn said that after having interviewed residents, he believed the fire was caused by candles and incense sticks, both burned in large quantities during Chinese New Year celebrations.

Evidence his team collected, he added, would be provided to villagers should they wish to file a request for compensation to the courts.

However, resident Chov Thibor, 50, who also lost everything in the fire said that even though there were suspicions as to where the fire started, “we cannot file a complaint against them, because their house and property were also damaged”.

Late into the morning after the fire, residents continued to lug ragged, leaky hoses through the disaster zone, dousing still-smouldering rubble with water pumped from the nearby Tonle Bassac river. A group of men and a filthy dog rested in the shade underneath a precariously sagging, burned-out building.

Resident Ou Phou, 25, a carpenter, inspected the ruins of his home, standing among warped pans, blackened corrugated roofing panels and the roasted carcass of a large gecko.

“My wife and I carried my daughters away from our home without taking anything with us when the fire neared,” he said, adding that he, like many in Tuol Roka village, planned on sleeping atop the ruins of his home until things were rebuilt or they were made to leave by authorities.

While Phou said that residents were celebrating the arrival of Chinese New Year the night of the blaze, there were no fireworks or firecrackers involved in the revelry.

“We all just played cards and cooked food,” he said. City Hall regularly bans pyrotechnics during the popular holiday to prevent accidental fires.

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People collect scrap materials in Meanchey district yesterday after a fire tore through a section of houses. PPha Lina

Paul Hurford, managing director of the safety equipment supplier and consultancy Fire Safe, said that fires were unfortunately common during Chinese New Year, and that rather than fireworks, “the burning of incense sticks and spirit money” mixed with an alcohol-fuelled “party mood” were usually to blame.

Near Phou’s home stood the remains of resident Chov Vaing Khong’s neighbourhood grocery store, where the store owner also lived with his wife and three children. An estimated $1,000 worth of merchandise, including 30 cases of beer recently stocked for Chinese New Year celebrations, were now ruined, he said.

“I lost everything,” said the 30-year-old Khong. The fire’s destruction went all the way down to the river.

Lim Somang, 75, whose now-wrecked house sat near the Tonle Bassac, said he had lived in the village since 1982, and expressed concern that authorities would try to relocate villagers following the disaster.

“Several years ago, local authorities told us they wanted to move us to another place to make a park here, but they never gave any formal documents to us,” he said.

 

Increasing Number of Small Real Estate Companies Cater to Growing Middle Class

4 Feb

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Thu, 04 February 2016, by

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Van Chanthorn, CEO of Towncity Real Estate. Photo supplied

A few skilled former real estate agents, who have built up their own networks, are taking advantage of their potential and starting their own business in response to the growing middle-class demographic.

After working in the marketing department in various private companies, and as a teacher as well as a real estate agent, Kompong Speu native Van Chanthorn, CEO of Towncity Real Estate realised the market potential and established his company in 2013.

Since its establishment, Chanthorn has 20 employees who are dedicated to responding to his customers’ real estate queries and needs. Chanthorn said it has been a long journey, starting from 2000 when only a small number of Cambodians knew what real estate was, and the media was not as advanced and ubiquitous as it is today. His involvement in real estate began after looking for rental houses for expats coming to work for NGOs in Cambodia.

“In 2011 or 2012, I began working at Phnom Penh Real Estate which provided real estate renting, selling and buying services to local and international customers,” Chanthorn said.

A few years’ experience of working in property opened his eyes to the market potential, leading him to establish his own real estate company in line with the growing middle-class demographic.

“When I first created Towncity, I did not have much capital, and relied mostly on experience and patience because I was born to a farmer’s family in the countryside,” he explained.

“What made me take a step forward was the customers’ demands because they kept moving houses. There were also some small sales, and from there I learned how to create and keep my own database of regular projects and customers.”

Chanthorn explained some of the problems he had with establishing a reputable name.

“Back then, some local customers didn’t give us a chance. After we got them to meet the real estate’s landlord or owner, they went behind our back and negotiated the price. We didn’t get any profits from it, while also wasting time and money. But now, I can see that most locals have abandoned that practice, and rely on real estate companies to rent, make a purchase or evaluate property.”

“Right now, real estate owners and customers, as well as developers, are relying on real estate agents because they can see that we are independent experts who are able to be the middleperson,” he said, adding that it takes a fine balance to negotiate property owners’ demand for higher prices, and customers who naturally want a bargain.

“As experienced agents, we explain to them why a certain price in the market is reasonable and that is how we can get them to choose our expert service,” he added.

Chanthorn explained that now that the construction sector is growing, an increasing number of the middle-class business people want to gain profits of their own. Another industry that he says has the potential to cash in on, is property valuation, especially when owners want to understand how much their property is worth and how much can be used as collateral to recieve loans and financing.

“As a real estate expert, our role in educating them on suitable market prices is further emphasised,” he said.

Besides in the local market, Towncity also provides real estate evaluation services in Laos as well as evaluation services for agricultural machinery.

Similarly, Teng Rithy of R’ Property Investment Group founded his own business in 2014 in Toul Kork.

“We began our investment with a capital of $450,000 to buy land plots in Chamkarmon and Preak Phnov. Right now, we are beginning a project in constructing 10 two-and-a-half-storey high hybrid villas measuring 8 by 8.5 metres each,” he said.

He continued that this inaugural project is located about one kilometer to the south of Chamkarmon Market, and that they have secured a 50 per cent deposit for the project, while waiting to begin construction on another project next month.

The price for one house in the first project is $87,000, built on an 8 by 14 metre plot of land and has access to a big communal garden. As for payment options, Rithy’s company offers three choices; customers can put a 90 per cent down payment and get a special discount, pay a mortgage for 15 months during the construction, or pay a mortgage for 10 years through CIMB and Maybank.

“Our housing projects are different from other real estate companies’ projects because after our architecture team designs the villas, we show the designs to interested customers and we are open to ideas and interior changes according to their needs. We can manage that,” he added.

“This keeps our customers happy because they are able to be a part of the designing process from the start,” Rithy said, emphasising on the importance of accommodating to customers who have a clear idea of what they want.

Sector Unsure Over Construction Law Implementation

4 Feb

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Thu, 04 February 2016, by

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Discussion panelists David Marshall, Simon Griffiths, Sok Siphana, Hun Chansan and Kim Heang on “Urban Planning & Construction.” Photo supplied

Real estate agents, lawyers and architects on Saturday addressed the importance of adopting the long-awaited construction law that would standardise practices and legally enforce building codes to keep up with the booming construction sector, suggesting that the new law could come into effect this year.

The new construction law that is still in the making was a central part of the discussion of the Urban Planning and Construction panel at IDP’s Global Alumni Convention 2016, a forum where decision-makers from the government and the private sector provide updates on multiple topics associated with the country’s economic development.

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Guests mingle between discussions on Cambodia’s economy. Photo supplied

Dr Sok Siphana, principal attorney of Sok Siphana & Associates and Advisor to the government, stated that the drafting of this law over the last two years would soon be complete and that “the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction (MLMPUPC) will push for [it] to be operational this year.”

Construction law according to Seng Lot and Sok Siphana

Seng Lot explained that before the new law was in the process of drafting, there were already legal mechanisms in place supposedly regulating the construction industry in Cambodia in the form of a general land management law that was passed in 1994.This law from 1994 however, is not a consistent document but it comes in the form of separate legal documents, technical instructions, and sub-decrees. With the new law, these documents are supposed to be consolidated and put into one whole comprehensive construction law.

“The [current] draft law is not adopted yet, but we have a lot of legal documents to form a basis for our ministry to manage the construction sector. A law is a higher level of a legal document; the main legal construction point of the 1994 law was used to prepare this current law, with many points added and updated,” Lot explained.

As there is no existing governmental body to regulate industry standards, such as Singapore’s ACRA (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority), Siphana’s part in drafting the law included producing a “very comprehensive construction law … and also introduce a whole chapter on construction contracts.”

How urgently operational construction law is needed in Cambodia was underlined by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who, two months ago, called on various ministries tasked with construction developments to crack down on illegal building projects.

“We have a whole formula to regulate the whole industry – from the blueprint, to the building company, to public safety. When the law comes out, we will have a ready set of formulas to regulate and check the quality of the building practitioner.”
David Marshall, board member of CanCham Cambodia, however, questioned the implementation process of the law amidst ongoing developments.

“To implement [the law], you really need an army of educated people to go out there and enforce it,” he said, while also raising the question of how the private sector could be adequately informed of proper real estate valuation practices and unified building codes.

Marshall’s doubts in the law becoming operational soon were echoed by other industry experts.

Andre De Jong – who was not present at the convention – board member and Chairman of the Real Estate and Construction Committee of EuroCham and managing director of Robert Bosch (Cambodia), who has been involved in the drafting of the current law, pointed out further challenges for the implementation.

“The new law will appear to be a great challenge for those construction workers, contractors, and developers who have been following unsafe practices as part of their everyday work. It will take some time to instill the knowledge and get their buy-in to the safety concepts expressed in the law, which they generally believe to be a more expensive approach,” he said.

De Jong added that until then, authorities in charge will have a lot of work on their hands in the education of the industry and enforcement of the new law, and that “there is a significant need of trained personnel in a number of fields.”

While leading private sector representatives pointed out remaining challenges that have to be overcome, the MLMUPC confirmed that they are pushing ahead with the law for this year, but acknowledged that it would likely not happen soon.

“We are pushing to finalise the law soon and plan to get it adopted by the end of 2016, but there is still much work in the process to reach our plan,” said MLMUPC spokesperson Seng Lot.

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Audience members at the GAC 2016 last Saturday. Photo supplied

He added that there is no solid date set for the construction law, which is still in the final drafting and revision stages before being submitted to the National Assembly for approval.

“It is a long process in making laws, and we can only hope to get it adopted at the end of this year” after which its enforcement could take an unspecified time before coming into effect, he explained. (The Phnom Penh Post is the media partner of the Global Alumni Convention)

New Details Slowly Emerge for Phnom Penh’s Master Plan

4 Feb

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Thu,04  February 2016, by Dit Sokthy

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Demolition of homes along the O’ Bak Touk Canal. PPha Lina

The long-awaited Master Plan for Phnom Penh, approved by the Cambodian government this past December, has been welcomed by the real estate sector despite its late approval. And while the Master Plan – called Phnom Penh Land Use for 2035 – had been prepared since 2002, its official approval had been delayed for nearly 13 years while developments cited within the document have long been underway or completed.

The plan approved and signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in December of last year, supposedly details necessary development projects including infrastructure, garden spaces and the maintenance of the city’s ecological system.

An official from the Phnom Penh Municipality, however, said the 35-page paper that appeared in local media last week, is merely a brief version summarised from the original thousand-page document that Governor Pa Socheatvong presented to Prime Minister Hun Sen last December.

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During the announcement of the approval for the plan, Socheatvong cited 14 specific focus points that were identical to the ones listed in the French-funded White Paper, titled Livre Blanc that came out in 2007 and was intended to be a master plan for Phnom Penh until 2020. They were meant to address issues of zoning, public and private land, and the issuing of land titles.

However, the 35-page document has no mention of these focus points. Socheatvong declined to comment on the document, and referred Post Property to City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche for further information.

“I can not provide full details. The master plan has a thousand pages. [The 35-page paper] is just a summary which was presented by the governor to the Council of Ministers,” said Dimanche.

“We are happy to have the plan to develop the city because Phnom Penh is confronting a growing population, increased vehicle [traffic] and many development projects in the future.”

Unable to provide specifics on future developments, the document highlights projects that have either already been undertaken, or are completely finished – leaving ambiguity towards if this plan has been already followed for over a decade, or if it is merely an extension of the proposed Master Plan 2020 which has been extended till 2035.

Another possibility might be that the 35 pages, written in retrospect, summarises developments that are not representative of an overall strategic future.

For instance, the Kob Srov dike (highlighted in the document), was completed in 2001 to prevent flooding in Phnom Penh. The document also outlines the relocation of the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port from the Daun Penh District to its new cargo terminal in Kandal province’s Keansvay District, which occured in 2013.

Another development project such as the railway station for example – previously situated in the Boeung Kak Lake area – was relocated to the Por Senchey district in the capital’s outskirts and completed in 2012, while the Phnom Penh International Airport has already been expanded over the last few years.

According to the document, 10,000 low-income families have been relocated from the city centre to the outskirts in an attempt to improve communities and beautify the city – moving those who illegally occupy land and opening it up for private companies to develop.

However, with mixed results, this process has been underway since as early as 2003 when 2.6 hectares of Borei Keila was granted to Suy Sophan-owned Phanimex company by the government in a controversial exchange aimed at creating a housing development project.

Cover page of the Master Plan summary bearing the signature of Hun Sen that officially marked his approval given on December 23 of last year. Photo supplied

Another instance of the now-approved Master Plan appearing to being applied retroactively, can be seen in the 2007 sale of Boeung Kak Lake to CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin-owned Shukaku Inc., which led to the eviction of 4,000 families.

Kim Heang, President of the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association (CVEA), said the Master Plan has been a long time coming, but acknowledges its significance for the real estate sector.

“Commonly, we have found [that] regulations in Cambodia always come after actions have already been taken. For me, it is not uncommon and new that actions have been taken before the Master Plan’s [official approval],” he said.

“For years, we have blindly worked because some investors do not know where they could invest their money to gain profit. After we know, we can invest our money into the right locations. Generally, having the Master Plan makes [it] easier. I think investors are the happiest,” he said.

In response to such a late approval when many of the projects outlined in the document have already been undertaken, Long Dimanche explained, “being late is better than having nothing because it is a document to guide the capital towards sustainable development.”

“It is a bit late due to unfavourable conditions. Thus, we need to have its approval so that we no longer lack guidance,” he said.

However, with scant details, few new projects are outlined in the document.

The document mentions a possible future bridge over the Mekong River, and a water treatment facility in southern Phnom Penh, and further expansion of the railway.

With the plan still leaving Phnom Penh’s future development unclear, rights groups are not relieved by the plan’s approval, citing that vulnerable communities could now be placed at further risk.

“We are more worried because villagers in poor communities have already been victimised before this approval,” said Sia Phearum, director of Housing Rights Task Force.

“If the authority is concentrated too much on economy rather than human rights, housing rights, and poor people, I think it will propably be risky. If the government fully implemented the National Policy on Housing, I think it would be supportive of poor communities,” he said.

Two weeks ago, some villagers had fallen victim to the city’s uncertain development activity once again.

Koeut Sokharany, whose house along O’Bak Touk canal was torn down in Russey Keo district by authorities on 18 January, said that her house was demolished despite her repeated requests to see a clear development plan for the canal.

“We wanted to have clear information on the development at O’ Bak Touk, but the authority rejected our request and accussed us of violating some parts of the canal. Not only did they decline to give us certain information about the development, but the authority also did not listen,” she said.

Despite this, according to Long Dimanche, the approximate 300 poor communities in the capital will decrease as these communities are improved.

With the approval of the master plan, Heang said, “if the shoes don’t fit, do you cut your feet to match the shoes or do you change the shoes to match your feet? We need to find a way to compromise.”

Without Toll Charges, Northwest Phnom Penh Gains Traction

4 Feb

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Thu, 04 February 2016, by Siv Meng

Phnom Penh and Kompong Speu relations have been strengthened after the halt of toll operations on National Road 4, while factories, enterprises, and the population continue to grow, according to property experts and officials.

Nim Niradeth, governor of Ang Snoul district in Kompong Speu province, said that there are currently 70 factories and enterprises, 89,476 residents, and 49,292 factory workers in Ang Snoul divided between 10 communes and 200 villages.

“Ang Snoul district will be even more developed if more investment pours into this area because the land price here has not increased that much over [the last couple of years],” he said.

Po Eavkong, general manager of Asia Real Estate, said that there are several factors that could drive development to that area.

“Firstly, there is more land activity now that there are more residents, most of whom belong to the lower- and middle-class populations. Secondly, there is an increase in land demands to build factories, enterprises, rental housing for factory workers, and a dry port,” he said.

“Furthermore, the cancellation of the National Road 4 tolls contributes to more developments coming into this area.”

He continued that on average, the price of land along National Road 4 increased by 10 per cent in 2015, while land along smaller roads increased from 5 per cent to 10 per cent.

“Larger plots of land from Chorm Chav to Kombol vary in price from $150 to $200 per square metre, while land for residential and commercial projects cost from $300 to $1,000. On the other hand, large plots of land from Kombol to Kompong Speu province only cost between $30 to $70 per square metre,” he explained.

With the stoppage of road tolls, Eavkong believes that the land will become even more favorable for factories and enterprises and that development will increase trade while easing the cost of logistics.

Families in Ratanakkiri File ELC Complaint

4 Feb

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Thu, 04 February 2016, by Phak Seangly

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Villagers sit in a section of forest that was cleared by a company in Ratanakkiri last week. Licadho

More than 220 ethnic Tompuon families in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district yesterday filed a complaint to rights group Adhoc over a 2,000-hectare land dispute against an economic land concession.

The ELC’s 9,000 total hectares were granted to Chinese company Jing Zhong Ri Co Ltd in 2011, and in 2014, local tycoon Roth Sokhorn became a major stakeholder in the concession and began clearing land on the 2,000 hectares that Tompuon villagers claim as their own.

The community said it already lost half of their land to Sokhorn’s cashew plantation and more clearing is on the way.

“If we lose the 2,000 hectares, we will lose our farmland and our identity,” said Touy Nheb, one of the villagers’ representatives.

He said that authorities visited the site last week but did not attempt to solve the dispute with the company. The villagers then turned to Adhoc for help.

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said he will send the villagers’ complaint to both the National Assembly and the prime minister’s cabinet.

The company wasn’t immediately available for comment yesterday; but Nou The, the acting district governor, said the company had agreed to allot the villagers another 2,000-hectare plot but that villagers were insisting on keeping their own.

“The company, authority and community are negotiating to resolve the problem,” he said, noting that the company has stopped clearing.

However, villagers maintained that the company has cleared 30 hectares in the area over just the past few weeks.

 

Borei Keila Families ‘Forgotten’

4 Feb

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Thu, 04 February 2016, by

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A Borei Keila community member receives a land title on Tuesday in Phnom Penh during a presentation ceremony. PPha Lina

As a municipality-led committee winds down outstanding claims in the Borei Keila land dispute, 24 families who had remained silent during the years-long process out of fears for their government jobs yesterday came forward to say that their previous agreements with authorities had seemingly been forgotten.

Yorng Sarem, 72 – a member of the Veal Vong commune council, and a representative of the 24 families – said an earlier committee gave them documents years ago, composed of representatives of City Hall and developer Phanimex, promising them flats at Borei Keila.

Sarem said when protests over the dispute began, her superiors had assured her that her claim was secure. The other families, also government workers, refrained from protesting too.

However, she continued, when she took the claims to Mean Chanyada, chief of City Hall administration and head of the current resolution committee, she was “shocked” to hear the documents were “irregular”, and that their claims would have to be re-filed.

“Those words also killed our hope and trust in the government,” Sarem said.

The documents, seen by the Post, bore the signature of the committee and the stamp of then-governor Kep Chuktema.

“We didn’t just make them up to get a house,” fellow representative Sok Samet said.

Chanyada could not be reached yesterday, but committee member and NGO representative Sia Phearum suggested the families file complaints straight to municipal authorities, as the current joint committee was only empowered to handle the claims of 154 specific families.

Land Row Meet Yields no Answers, New Meeting

3 Feb

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Wed, 03 February 2016, by Pech Sotheary

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Boeung Chhouk community members involved in an ongoing land dispute protest at the Phnom Penh Municipal court last year. PHong Menea

A group of Boeung Chhouk village residents being asked to vacate to make room for a new road met yesterday with a senior Council of Ministers official in a bid to resolve the long-running dispute. However, they walked away with nothing but the possibility of another meeting.

During the sit-down with Senior Minister Khun Hang, 12 representatives of the community, where four homes have already been destroyed, once again asked the government for land titles and on-site development.

“We have lived here since 1997 and our presence does not affect land belonging to others or the land’s development, so we ask for land titles,” said Khiev Chenda, one of the villagers representing the 46 involved families.

Another representative, Pin Kea, said that while the meeting was inconclusive, Hang promised to forward the people’s request to speak at Friday’s meeting of the National Committee for Land Dispute Resolution.

Housing Rights Task Force director Sia Phearum called on the government to give residents titles as a way of building trust and reducing poverty within the community.

The government first served eviction notices to 30 families in March 2009, claiming they were squatting on state property; the villagers refused to leave.

In December 2014, 50 families were forced from their homes when a fire ripped through the neighbourhood just weeks after the district governor ordered them to make way for planned road construction.

Boeung Kak Protesters Pelt World Bank Office with Eggs

2 Feb

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Tue, February 2016, by Bun Sengkong

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A former Boeung Kak resident protests outside the World Bank office in Phnom Penh yesterday. PHeng Chivoan

Villagers evicted by the development of Boeung Kak lake took their protest to the World Bank headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday, demanding to meet with the bank’s Cambodia country manager, Alassane Sow, and pelting the building with eggs after being rebuffed.

The protestors, who are seeking a resolution in the years-long displacement dispute, say they are fatigued after nearly 10 years of protesting and the World Bank has a responsibility in finding a solution as it continues to support the Cambodian government with aid.

“We are Cambodians who became poor, and lost houses and land because of the development of Boeung Kak and the World Bank’s million dollars of aid to the Cambodian government,” reads a statement released yesterday from a faction of the Boeung Kak lake protestors, who say they are owed more compensation than was originally negotiated.

The bank stopped issuing new loans to Cambodia in 2010 due to the Boeung Kak dispute, but continued to fund projects approved before then.

A spokesman from the bank said he had received the petition yesterday and would pass it on to Sow, who he said was unavailable due to meetings.

Protesters Put Sugar Firm’s Wall on Hold

2 Feb

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Tue, 02 February 2016, by

Roughly 30 villagers locked in a land dispute with Koh Kong Sugar protested at a construction site yesterday where they say the company was attempting to erect a concrete barrier on disputed land.

The villager’s representative, Preab Rotha, from Prek Khsach commune in Kiri Sakor District, said the company was attempting to fence off the land before the dispute had been settled.

“Therefore, we decided to ban them, and now they [construction workers] have stopped,” she said.

Koh Kong Sugar representative, Sin Sathya, said yesterday the fence was being built about a kilometer from the villagers’ land.

“We have the map, and the company is willing to negotiate with the people so we have no reason to do things like this,” he said.

In Prek Khsach commune, 135 families are locked in the land dispute, but the company said it has negotiated with 130 families.

However, village representatives dispute the numbers, saying more families have claims.

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