Families who have to make way for Phnom Penh’s new mega airport are refusing to relocate to land set aside for them, and are demanding more monetary compensation for what they’re being forced to vacate.
The $1.5 billion dollar project in Kandal Stung district, expected to cover 2,600 hectares, will be one of the world’s largest airports by land area, according to the Centre for Aviation, even though Cambodia is not a common transit stop.
The new airport, some 30 kilometers outside the capital, is being developed by The Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC), which specializes in major infrastructure projects and is owned by the well-connected Oknha Pung Kheav Se, chairman of Canadia Bank. It is expected to be completed by 2025.
But more than 60 families whose homes and farmland will be built on, said they don’t want to move to the resettlement area found for them about four kilometers away in Cheung Prey 2 village, Ampil Prey commune.
“What can we do when we are taken to a new location which is far away from the village,” said Khim Maly, a resident of Kampong Talong village who is refusing to move.
“I want money, so I can buy land somewhere else… otherwise I will die on my land,” she added. “We should have a choice regarding where we own, but we are being forced to just accept what we’re given.”
The Ministry of Land Management has offered residents a choice: Either accept a land exchange for property elsewhere or compensation of $8 per square meter, a sum villagers have continuously rejected as too low.
But construction is going ahead anyway. A CamboJA reporter who visited the new site on Monday saw bulldozers and trucks already transporting soil to build a new road across villagers’ rice fields.
A worker said the company is beginning with landfill, and then hopes to complete the road construction before the rainy season.
Other villagers said they were also wary of the land they’re being given at the new location.
One, Pha Seng, said he had declined the offer of $8 per square meter offered by the company for his farmland, but would agree to settle at the new relocation site if he is offered a higher rate.
“I agree to exchange [move to new place], but I want my farmland to be addressed first because I have seven children to feed,” he said
Another resident, Heang Hiek, said in return for her residential land, which she has to vacate to make way for the new airport, she’s been offered an empty rice field far from the village, where she won’t be able to easily do business.
But Kandal Stung Governor Ouch Savoeun, said all the necessary infrastructure is being put in place for those being relocated to the new site, including a new road, and water and electricity connections.
“We do not yet know how long it will take for the company to complete this, but until it’s done, people won’t be moved there,” he promised.
“While it’s currently a rice field, it has potential because it’s connected to the city’s third ring road and the real estate value in that area is also good,” he added.
This was echoed by Chiv Kok Say, who is in charge of land acquisition for the new airport.
“Moving to the new location is very good for them because the land prices there are higher than at the old location,” he said.
But Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at rights group Licadho, warned that “without fair and transparent negotiation, forced evictions could cause violence.”
Land disputes are a massive issue in Cambodia. In some conflicts, villagers are paid for their land or crops, but often at a price far lower than market rate. In others, villagers are made to move without compensation, with authorities claiming they have been illegally squatting on the land.
In September nine people were arrested during a protest by those facing eviction at the airport site.