Railway relocation frozen

Don Weinland and Sen David, Phnom Penh Post, Jun. 29 2011

The government and Asian Development Bank have agreed to suspend the resettlement of 36 Phnom Penh households living near railway tracks until villager complaints have been addressed, a document obtained by The Post yesterday revealed.

Human rights groups and residents of Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sangke village in Russei Keo district called the announcement, detailed in an ADB letter dated Thursday, an important development in the railway rehabilitation project that has reportedly affected thousands of households.

The step, however, is yet to resolve a dispute that rights groups say could push more Cambodians into poverty.

The letter states that an inter-ministerial resettlement committee has “committed that no affected households will be relocated until their complaints/requests are addressed and all basic services are provided at the resettlement site”.

The “mutual” decision to suspend relocation and compensation payment will be in place for affected Tuol Sangke villagers who are being move to make way for track restoration, Mailene Buendia, ADB’s safeguard specialist, said yesterday.

A similar suspension is in place for affected households in Poipet until electric lines are installed and roadside drains and water pumps have been repaired in the relocation site, she added.

In cases of resettlement, an ADB policy statement says relocated people should be provided with “better housing at resettlement sites” – something villagers say they aren’t getting.

Sim Vireak, community representative for the affected households in Tuol Sangke village, said current compensation offers – US$500 and a plot of land in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok District – are inadequate. Villagers will not relocate until they receive enough money to build new homes, he said.

“This compensation is not enough. Some villagers built or bought their house for nearly $5,000 or $6,000,” Sim Vireak said yesterday.

“They [villagers] will not move if the compensation is not enough and suitable for a new home.” Other grievances in Tuol Sangke village include an unwillingness to leave a familiar area, difficulty finding new jobs and schooling problems for children.

“I have lived here since 1980. I love my house. I don’t want to move,” Yong Maly, a 45-year-old Tuol Sangke villager, said.

“We hope that the new homes in Sen Sok district will be better than the ones in this area but it is very far away. The school is far away. My children are used to living and studying here. We are very worried about this.”

David Pred, the executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, called the suspension an important step but “hardly sufficient”.

An across-the-board moratorium on the resettlement of households throughout the country, coupled with independent review of compensation and income restoration, were necessary to begin redressing such land disputes, Pred said.

“Hundreds of complaints have been lodged with the competent authorities and the ADB, but these complaints have not yet been resolved,” he said.

Secretary of State at the Ministry of Transportation, Touch Chankosal, declined to comment.