An Unusually Glorious Yet Unpleasant City
March 5, 2015, 8:40 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

An Unusually Glorious Yet Unpleasant City

 “Nokor Thkeung Plaek, Sabay Tae Pnaek, Knong Cheth Rong Karm,” the late renowned Cambodian poet Krom Nguy describes Cambodia and people’s lives under the French colonial rule as “An unusually glorious nation which is only pleasant to the eyes but inside the heart is suffering.”

Sixty years after gaining independence from France and following two-decade long civil war, Cambodia has witnessed a steady progress with beautiful buildings and more and more skyscrapers dotting different corners of the capital of Phnom Penh.

However, for the families at the tent community of Borei Keila, the suffering of the people under the French rule is no match to their suffering under the current Cambodian government’s development that has left poor people more impoverished while the rich has become richer.

More than 300 people were removed from Borei Keila in January 2012 after the government granted permission to Phanimex to develop the site. At present, there are 176 families who are demanding housing promised to them by Phanimex – a pledge which it now says it cannot afford to honor in full.

In 2003, Pech Limkhuon, a 55-year-old representative of the tent community at Borei Keila, says the group had meeting with the City Hall officials who promised to give them 4.60 hectares of land for on-site development. Then, he says the community started looking for partners to build houses.

On January 5, 2004, the Borei Keila community signed a contract with Phanimex, which took 2.60 hectares of land and promised to build 10 six-storeyed buildings with a total of 174 rooms on the remaining 2 hectares of land.

“But, the company breached the contract and built only eight buildings,” Limkhuon laments.

While most of the 1,776 families involved in the disputes have received their own houses, he says 176 families have not and refused to move out of their old houses.

“On January 3, 2012, they started bulldozing our houses without any court warrant,” Limkhuon recalls. “They came with armed police officers and security guards.”

When people protested against the destruction of their houses, he says the security forces arrested 12 people, including two women, and sent to Prey Sar Prison for more than a month.

During another protest later, Limkhuon says the authorities sent 34 young and old people, mostly women, to Prey Speu Reeducation Center for one week.

Apart from being intimidated and harassed by the authorities, he says the people living in the tent community at Borei Keila have faced a serious food shortage and health problem.

“We don’t have proper shelters,” says Limkhuon. “It is hard to live in a tent. When it rains, we wake up and sit up all night.”

Limkhuon says that the families living in the tent community used to have their own businesses and have enough food to eat when they had their old houses.

“Now, all of us have lost our businesses and are in debt,” he complains. “Our income is zero.”

“I have lost both my house and business,” adds Nhim Sokkheang, 43. “Now my living condition got far worse.”

Sokheang says all her six children — aged between 6 and 20 years old — have dropped out of school, because she cannot afford to send them to.

The tent community at Borei Keila says their lack of food and shelter is compounded by the lack of clean water and sanitation. They say they have to buy water and pay to use a toilet.

“Our health has been seriously affected,” says Limkhuon. “We frequently go to the hospital.

“We can’t live in this condition for too long.”

Som Neang, 50, says she has been sick for 10 years with diabetics and high blood pressure – the illnesses that she attributes to the lack of sanitation and enough sleep.

“When I had a house and business, I could buy medicines,” she says. “Now, I don’t have any medicines.”

Worse still, the people at tent community at Borei Keila say other families who have received houses from the company have discriminated against them, while the authorities have kept a close watch on their movement.

“The authorities have spied on us like we are thieves,” says Ath Samnang, 29. “If we did anything illegally, they would have arrested us.”

Despite the government and the company have been slow in solving their problems, the tent community at Borei Keila says they will continue their protest to demand solution.

“I still hope that there will be a solution,” Limkhuon says. “We will not stay idle and wait for solution. We will struggle till the end.”

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