Beoung Kak Community Facing Hardship but Remains Hopeful
March 5, 2015, 8:49 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Beoung Kak Community Facing Hardship but Remains Hopeful

For generations, many Cambodians who lived in Phnom Penh could relieve their boring life or a day of hard work by cooling themselves or go for a pleasure ride on a boat at the capital’s main lake known as Boeung Kak.

Some families had also buried their deceased relatives on a small island in the middle of the lake as they believed that the surrounding water would keep the spirit alive and bring back prosperity and happiness to those who were still alive.

However, these beautiful memories have now become a thing of the past. Since six years ago, the Beoung Kak Lake has been reduced to merely its name as there has been no more water to be seen.

In 2007, Shukaku Inc, a joint venture Chinese-Cambodian company, was granted permission from the government to start filling in the huge lake with sand dredged from the Mekong River.

As the water has disappeared, so have the community’s prosperity and happiness. From a skyscraper in the center of the capital, one can see destitution stretching across the once beautiful lake which has been replaced by sand and dust. The once-bustling community has become a ghost town with only a small community of people who have defied eviction living a shattered life next to a long blue iron fence surrounding the former lake.

“They have filled in the lake and submerged our houses for three years,” laments 55-year-old Vann Ny as she moves close to tears. “We are the owners of the land, but they arrested us when we were trying to rebuild our houses.”

“They wanted to evacuate us out of here like the Khmer Rouge did [to Phnom Penh residents in 1975],” adds Bov Sorphea, 36. “The eviction was a blunt violation of human rights.”

In May 2012, 15 female women from Beoung Kak community were rested and detained arbitrarily following a peaceful protest to demand their land back.

Like other women, Sorphea says she also lost her sausage-making business when she and other fellow protesters were imprisoned.

“After they put me in jail for one month and 13 days, my customers have gone to other traders,” she says.

Worse still, she says her younger sister was also attacked as she and other remaining protesters tried to demand the release of the jailed protesters.

“When I was in jail, the police kicked my younger sister and caused her to miscarry two months into pregnancy,” she says.

Sorphea says the police and security forces have repeatedly used force to crackdown on Beoung Kak protesters who have marched to the Phnom Penh Municipality to demand justice for the loss of their land.

“They undressed me in front of the city hall,” she recalls. “The government treated us like their enemies [and] only thinks about the company and not the people.”

With regard to violent eviction, probably no other families at Beoung Kak community have suffered more injustice than the family of 42-year-old Chan Putisak, who says his family has been forcefully evacuated twice from his home.

In the first incident in 1996, Putisak says his mother and other families were violently evicted from their houses in Russeikeo district north of Phnom Penh.

“They opened fire and threw protesters onto trucks,” he recalls.

Unable to cope with the violent crackdown, Putisak says his mother and other families agreed to move out. “My mother agreed to accept the compensation, but she could not buy another house to live in,” he says.

In 2000, Putisak says he decided to buy a small house at Beoung Kak with a proper land title issued by the local authority. However, he says the government’s forces started to evict his and other families again in 2007 after they granted the Economic Land Concession to the Shukaku Inc.

As other families living at Beoung Kak agreed to accept compensations and moved out, Putisak says 63 families refused to accept anything less than on-site development.

“We are demanding 12 hectares of this land for those who have not received any land,” he says, pointing at a deserted area south of the activists’ makeshift office.

Putisak says the government and the company have used tricks with people at the Beoung Kak community who have protested for their land.

“Originally, they asked us to choose between on-site development and taking the money,” he recalls. “Then, they came back with another plan not for on-site development but giving money instead.”

When the protesters agreed to take money as compensations, Putisak says the government and the company dragged their feet and eventually changed their mind.

“They kept delaying and finally they said they wouldn’t give us any money,” he says, shaking his head. “They pushed us to take money from the [adjacent] Railway Project and the Railway Project pushed us back.”

Before the general election in July 2013, Putisak says the municipality told the remaining Beoung Kak community that it would give their land back if they stopped protesting.

“We told them that we would stop protesting, but that we wanted the promise to start immediately,” he says.

On July 22, 2013, Putisak says the Phnom Penh governor and municipality officials came to meet with the 15 families who “betrayed” the Beoung Kak community. But, he says the officials refused to meet his group.

“I think it was just a show that the government cared for the people and wanted to solve the problems,” he says. “But, their promise is just an empty promise.”

Nevertheless, Putisak and other Beoung Kak community people say they remain optimistic their demand will be met by the government and the Shukaku Inc.

“Based on the result of the election, they must make a change and find solution for us,” he says.

“We are not alone as we’ve got help from the civil society group,” add Sorphea. “Our demand is in line with the policy of the government.”

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