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Land plots awarded to hundreds of families living along derelict train line

Families from Kilometer 6, Tuol Sangke 1 commune, Russei Keo district, meet with officials about their resettlement plots, July 29, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Families from Kilometer 6, Tuol Sangke 1 commune, Russei Keo district, meet with officials about their resettlement plots, July 29, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Russei Keo district officials announced the relocation of 320 families living along an abandoned railway, prompting dozens of residents further down the tracks to gather at City Hall and demand a similar settlement.

Russei Keo District Governor Ek Khun Doeun said each family would receive a 4×15-meter plot of land behind Wat Toul Sonte Wan.

“We are poor, but the authorities have given us land to live on,” said Suon Van, 57, a long-term resident. “I am very happy we have legal land.”

Residents had faced years of uncertainty.

Families from Kilometer 6, Tuol Sangke 1 commune, Russei Keo district, wait to hear about resettlement plots, July 29, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

District officials in 2020 told Van’s neighbor, Vin Vannary, she had to relocate. The 41-year-old laborer had lived along the tracks for more than 20 years, and like others, she feared authorities would move her to the capital’s outskirts.

“I never wanted to live in any other place,” she said. “I wanted to live here. If they gave us land somewhere else, I would not accept it.”

Authorities said hundreds of families across Tuol Kork, Daun Penh and Russei Keo districts would need to relocate due to construction of a new road and drainage system.

Families from Kilometer 6, Tuol Sangke 1 commune, Russei Keo district, visit their new plots of land, July 29, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Am Sam Ath, operations director at Licadho, praised the land offer, but said more work was needed.

“It is good that authorities are giving land to the affected people, but they should also give them a land title, to give them confidence about owning the land,” he said. “They must build infrastructure, roads, sewers, water and provide electricity.”

District Governor Khun Doeun assured families that water and electricity were coming, and they could apply for land titles once they relocated.

“We have facilitated several discussions to reach today’s decision,” he said. “We will continue to facilitate the preparation of title documents, water, and electricity.”

Residents further down the tracks in Tuol Kork were still waiting for answers — and some certainty about their future.

“City Hall asked us to meet again on Aug. 8,” said Chhouk Ratana, 55, who had gathered at City Hall with dozens of others seeking a resolution. “We asked City Hall for land at Wat Toul Sonte Wan, like the others, but they asked us to accept land at 7NG. We will not accept that place.”

Families from Tuol Kork district seek help from Phnom Penh Governor Khuon Sreng at City Hall, July 29, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

The land at 7NG is nearly 40 kilometers away, making it difficult for parents to work and children to attend school, residents said.

Chea Pisey, Toul Kork district governor, declined to comment.

“Authorities should quickly solve this problem for the people,” Am Sam Ath said. “They should avoid leaving it too long without a solution. The uncertainty is difficult for people.”

Ratana said she and her neighbors had been waiting for a solution since 2017.

“The district told us to keep quiet, since they have not evicted us yet,” she said. “But we are afraid.” 

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