About 100 villagers and activists from the Boeung Kak community in the Cambodian capital held a Buddhist ceremony on Thursday to put a curse on a property development company building a project on their former land, and demanded that city hall pay them fair compensation for their losses.
Villagers threw salt and pepper on the grounds of Shukaku Inc. to put a curse on it for “stealing” their land, said a representative of former residents of the community, who declined to be named.
“We are cursing the company that is investing in the properties,” she told RFA’s Khmer Service. “It will face misery and bankruptcy because it very unjustly caused us to suffer.”
She added that she did not have any faith in the municipal government to help former Boeung Kak residents who had lost their land to the development company.
Those who lived in the Boeung Kak community—a settlement that included nine villages surrounding a lake in Phnom Penh—have fought authorities for years over the eviction of thousands of families to make way for the development project that has yet to materialize.
Another villager, Em Srey, said she had been forced to leave her home and got less compensation than others had received.
“The company and the government worked together to take land from Boeung Kak’s villagers and refused to provide proper compensation,” she said.
Some former villagers said they already had received more than U.S. $8,000 per family in compensation, but now they are demanding more money and a plot of land in the Boeung Kak area.
The villagers, who also protested in front of city hall, clashed with municipal personnel when some protestors used a megaphone to address officials inside the building. No one was injured during the confrontation, those at the scene said.
Some families at the protest are demanding as much as U.S. $20,000 in addition to money they have already received, arguing that others who initially refused the company’s first offer received higher amounts later.
Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the municipal government could not resolve the villagers’ demands, but would try to provide help for them at their relocation site.
“What the villagers raised is beyond our abilities,” he told RFA. “We will develop where they are living.”
‘Improper and unjust solution’
Ny Chakriya, chief investigator of the national rights group Adhoc, said villagers who have been relocated from Boeung Kak to another site have been unable to find proper jobs.
“The villagers’ land dispute stemmed from an improper and unjust solution,” he said.
Villagers previously argued that the development project, backed by Lao Meng Khin, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party, had caused flooding in the community.
Several dozen families are still waiting for land titles owed to them after Hun Sen in 2011 reclaimed part of the concession awarded to Lao Meng Khin’s company Shukaku in 2007.
The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.
Reported by Oum Rainsy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.