Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

“It’s a Threat”, Boeung Tamok Community Decry Demolition Order by Prek Pnov Authorities

The view from behind the houses of the Boeung Tamok community, and where the authorities will soon implement the main canal development project. (Supplied)
The view from behind the houses of the Boeung Tamok community, and where the authorities will soon implement the main canal development project. (Supplied)

Boeung Tamok residents declared an announcement by the Prek Pnov district authorities as a threat, where they have been asked to immediately dismantle their houses, stalls and fishing area for the development of a major canal.

According to a February 19, 2024 announcement, which was received on Tuesday afternoon by the community, the Prek Pnov district administration is to implement Phnom Penh Capital Administration’s canal project to eliminate flooding on the west of Road 151 of Prek Pnov canal.

“The district administration will soon carry out the [construction of the] canal and not be held responsible for any damage or loss of property belonging to the residents,” the statement said.

The announcement stated that the land, which is occupied by Boeung Tamok residents, is state land, thus urging them to cooperate with the authorities.

Sea Davy, a community resident, said she and other communities opposed the announcement by Prek Pnov district administration as the latter did not inform them earlier or study the project’s impact on them.

She viewed this as a threat and a violation to their right to live on that land, as the community have title deeds, recognized by the village and commune hall.

“This announcement violates the rights of the people and severely oppresses the people. We have constitutional rights. People have the right to own land under the Land Law. We have title deeds that are recognized by the commune and village [authorities],” she added. “So I want to ask if they are applying the law wildly or just any law because there is still no solution for the people.”

If the authorities carried out the canal construction, Davy said, over 100 families would be badly affected owing to the lack of place to live and do business.

“All of us are very worried because our land [Tamok lake] where we used to earn a living from is already destroyed,” she lamented, sharing that only the part where their house is, has survived. “It is the last remaining land for the residents of Samrong Tbong community.”

Davy said if the government fails to help them in time, the district and commune officials would start digging the canal that would “kill us all”.

Another resident, Soeun Sreysoth, who also expressed outrage, called the district authorities’ announcement a “serious violation”. She alleged that they were “repeatedly persecuted” by the authorities, who “quietly” asked them to dismantle their houses.

However, she suggested that Prime Minister Hun Manet’s government consider compensating them based on market rates so that they are not impacted by the project.

If there is still no solution, community residents will continue to fight against the project until there is a resolution, even if it affects their lives because they do not have any other place to live apart from where they are currently. This has been their home for many years, Sreysoth said.

“If they [authority] continue to violate people’s rights and commit acts of violence against the people, the people will not tolerate it. We will [fight] even if it means changing our lives.”

Prek Pnov district governor Thim Sam Arn declined to comment and hung up the telephone soon after the first question was asked by CamboJA. Similarly, Phnom Penh City governor Khoung Sreng mentioned that he was busy with meetings, and ended the call.

Licadho rights group operation director Am Sam Ath believes that the impending demolition would be another burden on Boeung Tamok residents because in the past, they have received court orders for defending their land. So, if this happens again it would greatly affect their economic well being.

“We still urge the authorities to consider finding a good solution because we see that in the area of Boeung Tamok the government has cut out a lot of land for companies and the private sector.”

“Therefore, if the authorities examine and research the history of the people’s land tenure, and if they have lived there long, the government should consider providing them [land] ownership as well.”

However, he added, if the community land dispute continues, it will have a negative impact on the new government and lead to more criticism of land rights and human rights violations which will reflect badly on Cambodia.

STT executive director Soeung Saran has previously said that Boeung Tamok villagers have been living on the land since 1996 and should not be accused of settling there illegally. The community land is outside the lake border as designated in a 2016 sub decree, Saran noted, and will not affect the expansion of the road running next to people’s homes. 

Last December, Prek Pnov district authorities ordered a resident named Kong Toeur to remove her partially-built vegetable stall, claiming that her stall was built on road forage land.

Her refusal to dismantle it resulted in clashes between workers of the district authority and community residents. In mid-January, six out of seven residents were sued by a district official named Sok Ban for alleged intentional violence, property damage and crimes against public officials. They appeared in the Phnom Penh Court on February 14 and 15 two months after the clash.