The destruction caused by the wars in Cambodia was not only physical. The constant urgency to survive also challenged the very particular and intricate values which built Khmer society over the centuries. Cambodia is far from having recovered the tissue of solidarity which binds a society and which provides protection to the weaker members of its community. The expression of this absence of solidarity is flagrant when it comes to land issues. In 5 years the number of landless has doubled from about 10% to nearly 20%. There are laws regarding land and property, but what is their effectiveness if corruption is to be found at every level of society, and if the most respected laws are the unwritten laws of power?
Work in progress... Cambodia is developing fast, creating profound social shifts. It needs ever increasing numbers of Megawatts to feed its growth. Cambodia has rivers. Particularly in the more varied terrain of the Stung Treng and Ratanakiri provinces. The solution to provide for more energy by building hydropower dams might seem obvious. Unfortunately this is a country where accountability is not yet the norm, and the plans to build a series of dams along the Mekong tributaries in the northeastern province are under way. The mostly indigenous communities living there have not been thoroughly consulted about the impact the dams will have on their life and the ecosystem they are living in.
Cambodia: Boeung Kak Lake Eviction
A $US79 million contract gave the green light for Shukaku Inc. to develop the 133 hectare of Boeung Kak Lake and its surroundings in February 2007, forcing more than 4,000 families around the lake in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, to leave their homes. The lake was filled with sand from the Mekong river, raising concerns that this will increase risks of flooding Phnom Penh during rainy season. Regardless of the size of the land, compensation of 8000$, insufficient to buy a new home, or a flat in the far suburbs is offered to some residents. In August 2011 a decree by Prime Minister Hun Sen allows on-site relocation on 12,44 Ha to about 750 families, excluding many others. 1,5 year later the 12,44Ha were still not outlined.
Cambodia: Development Landscapes
Landscapes of Development areas in Phnom Penh where most of the time people were evicted from. In 2008 150,000 Cambodians were living under threat of an eviction, including about 70,000 for Phnom Penh alone. All the forced evictions in the capital are done in the name of Development. The development of land. Not the development of people. The filling of Boeung Kak Lake by Shukaku Inc. alone will force 4,000 families out of their homes, pushing them towards the suburbs and disrupting the social components of the city.
Cambodia: The Boeung Kak Naga
LEANG Seckon, artist, born in 1974 in Prey Veng province, maybe the most influential Cambodian artist, has to leave his studio on Boeung Kak Lake which nurtured him for the last 20 years
Cambodia: A Convenient Fire
Located along the railway tracks, the Wat Neak Kavean or Boeung Kak II settlement was destroyed by a fire in the early night of March 8th. The settlement would likely have been removed and the 150-200 families relocated in the near future. Three months later, in June 2010, negotiations for a relocation are still under way. The gutted dormitory next to the pagoda where Prime Minister Hun Sen spent time as a monk in his youth is being rebuilt.
Cambodia: The Last Chance
Saem is a Social Land Concession set up to increase the population near the border disputed by Cambodia and Thailand. One star General Pen Lim, through a local NGO called Aids and Drugs Research Protection Organisation which he founded and employing a staff of 20, has gathered some 800 destitute families, about 30 of them with an HIV positive member, from all over Cambodia on this empty space over the last two years. The target of the organisation is to allocate each family with a plot of land of 30x40m for their house and 1ha for farming. They are still waiting for their land titles...
Cambodia: Sre Ambel Eviction
On October 12th, 43 families from four different villages received an ultimatum issued by the Court of Koh Kong to leave their home by October 27th, apparently to solve a land dispute involving 200 Ha between Sok Khong and Heng Huy, two owners of very big plantations nearby. The people live there since 1983.
Cambodia: Borei Keila Relocation
This was suposed to be a model case: Phanimex company was granted the permission to develop the Borei Keila settlement and had to use 2 out of 14 Ha to build housing for the inhabitants, thus allowing them to remain within the city. Corruption took its toll and the appartments were allotted to many of the inhabitants but also to many who suddenly showed up and claimed to be rightfull owners. A large number of people was left aside. Among them families with at least one HIV positive member. They were relocated 25 Km from the city. 300 more families were violently evicted on Jan 3rd 2012, Phanimex having failed to finish the promised buildings.
Cambodia: Dey Krohom Eviction
On January 24th 2009, at 6:00am, some 200 policemen and 600 workers hired by 7NG company and backed up with bulldozers and fire trucks, brutally evicted the last 100 families remaining at Dey Krohom after a 3-year long land conflict. Over 1000 families were living on the land since more than 10 years in slum-like conditions. The land was granted as a concession to the 7NG company by the government in 2006 and is located in an area which has gained incredible value due to the development of the Phnom Penh over the last five years.
Cambodia: March of the Damned
In 48 hours, 5 distinct groups of people arrived in Phnom Penh with complaints of unresolved land issues. One group from Bavel district in Battambang province, whose land was sold by a neighboring village chief, walked most of the way to Phnom Penh, and, unsatisfied by the ruling of a corrupt judiciary system, tried to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen and explain their situation.
Cambodia: Sambok Chap Eviction
After the Bassac fire in nov. 2001, the inhabitants were relocated outside of Phnom Penh. 60% came back and settled on the same location, joined over the years by more families. The municipality sold the land to Su Srun company. The company bought land in Dangkao district, 27 km away, to relocate the families. Each owner of a house is entitled a plot of land of 5x12m. But those who are renting become homeless. Over 400 renting families are parked together at the entrance of the fenced land they were evicted from. After weeks sheltering from the rain and living in unworthy conditions without drinking water or electricity, the renters were still waiting for the authorities to decide wether or not they would get a plot of land. On June 7th, all the people remaining on Su Srun’s land were forcefully removed and relocated to Andong, far from the city.
Cambodia: Bit Meas Tomb Raiders
Having found some antique artefacts in his ricefield, the owner sold the right to dig to neighbours. Soon, for over a week, nearly 3000 people were uprooting the area, some of them having found gold, others beads (worth between 0,25 and 1,25$), pottery and teeth (mostly from pigs) but most of them having destroyed what was an Iron Age graveyard dating from between 500 BC and 500 AC. Each looter paid 2,50$ for a two square meter plot. The field is situated near the archeological site of Tuol Vihear Bimeas.
Cambodia: Wat Botum Protests
For over two months more than 400 people from various parts of Cambodia (Kompong Som, Oddar Meanchey, Kompong Speu) have been camping in a park in front of Wat Botum. They all were evicted from land they sometimes were living on for over ten years and try to claim it back by meeting with officials in the capital. Finally some were lured back to where they came from with false promises and found out they achieved nothing. The others were chased by the police.
Cambodia: The Tumring Concession
Rhum Thea has for generations been living from the collection of resin from trees in the forest, when the government decided to allot a 6200ha concession to the Chhup rubber company. As a compensation, each family of the 8 villages in the concession area was (or will be) given 3 ha of land to plant rubber trees. A big part of the forest has already been cleared for the rubber plantation concession. Some of the villagers owned 1000 resin trees, making up to 50$ a month, and they are now faced with poverty as they will have to wait seven years before the rubber trees can yield a revenue.100Kg of resin sells for nearly 90$. For each productive resin tree cut down on the concession area, the villagers are paid 10000 Riel (2.5$).
Cambodia: New Territories
Bavel district is an area typical of a new settlement. Located close to the Thai border, it was a frontline where rthe Vietnamese army tried to contain the Khmer Rouge resistance. It was made accessible only recently and hundreds of families try their luck settling in and clearing mine-infested land, lacking the most basic infrastructure like health facitlities or schools. Non governmental organisation CARE has set up a program to provide essential infrastructure.
Be it mining for rubies and sapphire in Pailin or Rattanakiri, or for gold in Preah Vihear, the open air mining puts a heavy toll on the environment for little personal rewards. The only people making profit are those who control the business: the Khmer Rouge in Pailin or dubious military cadre in Preah Vihear. The rubies trade has financed the Khmer Rouge for many years, and there are no more gems to be found in Pailin. The forest is poisoned by gold mining as mercury is used to precipitate gold flakes. Now big companies are moving in, threatening the environment on an even bigger scale.
Cambodia: Sambok Chap Fire
At 03:05pm on Nov 26th 2001 a violent 2 hour-long fire gutted the Sambok Chap settlement behind the Bassac theatre and the Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh, destroying over 2000 homes. The municipality had previously issued long-time warnings to the inhabitants of this community that they would eventually be relocated in the perspective of a drastic city renovation plan undertaken since a couple of years by Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sopphara. The cause of the fire is uncertain, but it serves the interests of the municipality so well that arsoning is suspected.
Cambodia: The Bassac Eviction
The people settled along the Bassac river were requested to leave by the Phnom Penh authorities. A park and promenade will replace the shacks where hundreds of people could make a living thanks to the proximity of the city. All the inhabitants, together with their belongings, were resettled in the middle of rice fields, some 25 Km out of town.
Cambodia: The Poipet Struggle
During the year 2001, some 293 families were evicted from a piece of land in Poipet near the Thai border, to make way for a casino. Some families, mostly coolies pushing carts across the border, were relocated 20Km from the city. The remaining 100 families came down to Phnom Penh, camped in what would soon become Hun Sen gardens, and, for 6 months, went every working day to the National Assembly looking for support from members of parliament. After 6 months and having been chased away from Hun Sen gardens several times, they scattered away, having obtained nothing.