Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Families Seek Clarity After Displacement Rumors Related to the Kandal Stung Mega-Airport Project

Villagers living along the "94" canal in Kandok commune fear eviction linked to the new airport, CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Villagers living along the "94" canal in Kandok commune fear eviction linked to the new airport, CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Some 200 villagers living in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district and Takhmao town gathered at Kandal City Hall on Tuesday demanding to know whether they would be joining the hundreds of others who are being displaced by the new Phnom Penh International Airport. 

According to the families, workers they recognized to be both airport staffers and local authorities spray painted red marks on dozens of homes in late November, leading them to fear displacement. But the provincial deputy governor, Nouv Peng Chantara, said the marks had nothing to do with the airport. He insisted it was the local government who marked the homes and did so only as a means to track how many people were living there.  

Cheang Sopheap, 60, from Kandok commune, were among those who met Peng Chantara asking for clarity about the scope of the project. 

“[The company] does not allow people to build new houses, they said this was their land and their location,” she said. “I really don’t understand. That’s why I came here and want the authorities to provide a clear explanation.”

“I am happy with development, but they have to see about the people. If the development makes people cry, it is better not to do so,” she added. 

Villagers arrive at Kandal Provincial Hall to meet with provincial authorities, December 27, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Already, more than 300 families in Kandal province’s Kadal Stung district and Takeo province’s Bati district are being displaced to make way for a $1.5 billion airport built by Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC), owned by well-connected Oknha Pung Kheav Se.

But the group whose homes were spray painted in November said they had not been told previously they would be impacted by the project.  

Ngoy Samnang, 31, from Ach Kok village, Kampong Samnanh commune, said they wanted an explanation from provincial authorities as airport staff told them to leave their homes.

“I am worried about the eviction as they sprayed on the walls of people’s houses and the airport’s security patrolled all night, frightening us,” she said. 

CamboJA reporters visited the location on Tuesday and saw numbers spray painted on about 90 percent of the modest wood-and-zinc homes running on both sides of the so-called “94” canal, which is located about 5 kilometers from the site of the new airport. 

Seng Sokry, 39, who said she had lived in her home for more than 20 years, told CamboJA that the workers provided no information after painting the numbers on. 

“I thought that the airport was far from here and nothing would affect me but now they are telling me to move,” she said. “I was told to relocate to another place, but they did not tell me where. I don’t want to move to another place; here I can fish for a living. I asked them about this, and they said they don’t know either.”

She said she was concerned that if she were forced to move to a relocation site, it would likely lack the convenient location and decent infrastructure of her current home — which has been the case with many relocation sites throughout the country. 

“I am so worried about the place I would be moved to.”

Workers construct a bridge near the new mega airport in Kandal province near a home that has been spray painted, December 27, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Peng Chantara, the Kandal deputy governor who met with the concerned villagers, told CamboJA that the authorities were not planning to relocate the group and were only compiling accurate statistics on those living in the area.

“It’s bad to say the word eviction, the government has never evicted any people like in the Khmer Rouge era,” he added. “They are living on state public land, so we just do clear statistics to make it easier to manage.”

He insisted the spray painting was not linked to the new airport project but said the local government had no plans to issue land titles to those living along the canal.

The new airport covers 2,600 hectares, affecting hundreds of families in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district and Takhmao town, and Takeo’s Bati district.

Hundreds of villagers whose farmland and houses have been affected have refused the compensation of $8 per square meter provided by the company even though their farmland has been cleared. 

The ongoing dispute has seen nine villagers charged with intentional violence with aggravating circumstances, obstructing a public official with aggravating circumstances, and incitement to commit a felony after they participated in protests against the development. The Kandal Provincial Court in November found them not guilty.

Right group Adhoc’s senior monitor, Yi Soksan, said local authorities should respond to the people’s demands properly when it comes to development that affects the community. 

“The government has to make sure that infrastructure is developed, such as roads, bridges, hospital and school at the new location,” he said.