The Tatok community is located alongside canal 03 in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, where 35 families live. They are waiting for City Hall to issue them land titles after submitting their petition in late 2018.
Tatok community representative Im Saroeun, 52, said that she has been living in the community since 2000, and it was only later that the government announced a development project alongside Canal 03. Concerned about how the project would affect them, the community’s members submitted a request to the relevant authorities in late 2018 but have received no response.
She added that they have since made around six petitions, but continue to wait a long time for their land titles. Recently, about 20 of them went to City Hall to follow up on the matter, but the officials ignored their requests and directed them to the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation and the Land Management Department instead.
“I feel like they want to ignore us and want us to give up, but we will not give up. We will continue to demand our land titles,” she said.
“The purpose of the Tatok community is, firstly, to request to cut the land from Canal 03 land, and second, we want the authorities to issue land titles for our ownership. Lastly, we want to participate in any project that would happen in the area,” Saroeun said.
She is also concerned about her family’s living conditions since her plot of land floods in the rainy season; she said that the project’s oknha (tycoon) has filled in the stream along the canal and fenced it off, but the authorities do not care about how it affects poor people.
Saroeun is a fish vendor with nine children in her family, and she said it is very difficult for her to make a living as she can’t even raise cattle or chicken on her land. She added, “When it is the rainy season, our plot of land is flooded and our property is damaged, and the kids need to take a boat to school.”
It is for this reason that the community’s members want to have legal ownership over their land – so they can fill it in and build homes on it. Lay Tam, a 65-year-old Tatok community member, similarly expressed this wish.
“I am aging and I am very poor. Living here is very difficult in the rainy season when our house is flooded,” she said.
“We are suffering from the company filling up the surrounding land and we get flooded. We dare not fill in the land like them because the authorities have not issued land titles to us yet. If we can get land titles, we can build houses to make sure we are not flooded anymore.”
“I feel disappointed in the authorities. They threw us like a ball from one to another and do not help us,” she added.
Tam claims that her plot of land is located near Canal 03, and is not on the canal’s land itself. She said that in the past, the area was just a small stream flowing through the dry season with paddy fields, but now the stream is already filled up.
Touch Son, 80, said that she was born in this location and makes the same claim as Tam.
“I know this area clearly. At that bridge was a pond, not a canal, and I do not want anything besides ownership,” she said.
The area around the Tatok community has been fenced off by powerful people for potential development, and the filling in of land around the community has been flooding homes in the rainy season. The mark of the floods can be seen on the walls of their houses.
Sun Siv, Choeung Ek commune chief, said that Tatok community members went to file a petition quietly at City Hall without informing the authorities. He said that when they arrived at the ministry, no one helped them to seek a solution because the land they live on today is the canal’s land. He said that the community has not been threatened or forced to evacuate because they have been living there for years. However, the commune cannot issue them land titles.
Kim Nheb, Dangkor’s governor, declined to comment on the matter.
Soeung Saran, Executive Director of Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), said that the authorities should consult with the Tatok community fully and resolve the dispute in a transparent manner and not deflect responsibility to each other.
He added that if no solution is forthcoming, there will be negative impacts on the community living alongside the canal. They could be evicted and lose their jobs.
“If we look back to the past of forced evictions, it affected the evictees’ mental health as well as their child’s education, and the government should provide compensation to those affected,” he said.
Meth Meas Pheakdey, City Hall spokesman, could not be contacted as during the call, he said the line was interrupted, and he did not respond to messages.
An report released in February by the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) found that in 2021, there were 169 cases of land conflicts covering 52,601.87 hectares of land, which affected 17,033 families – including 1,347 indigenous families. Of the 169 cases, 66 cases involved conflicts with powerful men and 27 cases conflicts with rich men.
However, Saroeun and other Tatok community members still hope that the authorities, especially City Hall, will help them settle this dispute and make a clear assessment relating to Canal 03 in their favor. “If they say we are living on the canal’s land, they should see the bridge’s direction – it does not go through our land. The direction of the bridge is running to the land that the tycoon filled up. If the authorities implement their work [in a way] that is unjust to villagers, I also have nothing to say,” she said.