Monday, May 08, 2006

The relocation of wrath - a Dickensian tale of misery in the middle of Phnom Penh - worthy of Emile Zola's novel

Monday, May 8, 2006

Families continue to move in anguish and anger

By Ung Chansophea
Cambodge Soir

Translated from French by KI-Media

Under a scorching sun, squatters from [Tonle] Bassac [village] continued to empty out of their houses which are being torn down under a clatter of roof sheet metal, to be sent to the Trapeang Anh Chanh village located 25 kilometers from there, in the district of Dangkao. Nuon Tom, with an ashen face, said that the men of the company which is planning a development project for this area, are about to tear down his hut. “They already took apart my sister’s home. Since then, she slept on a mat without a roof over her head. Soon, it will be my turn …” She (Nuon Tom’s sister) is only a renter and she has no right to receive a plot of land outside of the city in compensation. On the other hand, her landlord will benefit from the transaction. Like others in her situation, she is placing all her hope on the NGOs.

The anguish of the 400 renter families is mounting. “We don’t know where to go, we have no relative in the city. Yesterday [Saturday], two hundred of us went to the SRP headquarters. However, there, they advise us to remain calm and wait. Those of us who lost our roof, had set up small tents, the authorities came to snatch them away,” Tom reported while stressing that a Christian organization came to collect the names of the renters and to offer them rice. However, to assure that no one will linger on the spot once the homes have been torn down, the [Phnom Penh] municipality had prevented the NGOs from handing out help to the families at that location. “We have no tent, no mosquito net, we are being eaten alive at night by the mosquitoes,” an old woman complained. She is worried to see that the NGOs are being pushed out of this area.

An unemployed mother who still continues to camp in the trash with her children, tells the story of the lost of the hut she rented for 30,000 riels ($7.50) per month, as well as the lost of her husband who preferred leaving to start afresh his life, alone. Not far from there, a dispute can be heard. A woman shrieks out that she is an owner, but that she did not receive a plot of land “overthere.” “The past 8 months, I was hospitalized for tuberculosis, I could not show up. Finally, I’m getting better and I discover that they have torn down my house!” A representative of the authorities answered by telling her that her house is on the list of those to be demolished. Another woman then sprung up, she claimed to be the renter who was recently chased out by relatives of the owner, who are trying to obtain a free plot of land. Facing with the complication, a representative of the police pointed out that some owners are ready to play all kind of tricks to receive free land, they do not hesitate to kick out their renters and replace them by their relatives. Nearby, an 80-year-old woman, piqued by the dispute, accused the authorities of overstepping Buddhist principles. She no longer has a roof to call home, and her daughter is searching in vain for a place to stay. Meanwhile, a serious-looking responsible of the company, with a straw hat, is making the round, following by body guards and cops.

Friday, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), an association of 21 NGOs, has renewed its call for the delay of the operations, and the formation of a joint committee to bring some order in the moving of about 1,000 families by correctly identifying the owners and the renters, whom, CHRAC said should also receive a plot of land. “If no solution can be found for the renters, they will squat in public areas. It will only be a shift of the problem,” Thun Saray, Adhoc director, said worrily. CHRAC who is also demanding the authorities to lift the ban on bringing humanitarian assistance to the people of Bassac, is also denouncing the irregularities in the distribution of the new plot of land.

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