Floating home evictions begin amid protests


Forced to leave: Residents dismantling their floating house on the Tonle Sap river after they were ordered to leave within one week of being notified by local authorities in Prek Pnov district. — Reuters

PHNOM Penh has begun overseeing the dismantling of “floating home” communities on the banks of the Tonle Sap River over the objections of long-time residents who say they have nowhere else to go.

For generations, the floating wooden houseboats of Phnom Penh have been both livelihood and way of life for mostly ethnic Vietnamese families, home to fish farming and interconnected by warrens of hand-built bridges interspersed with sunken poles and small boats.

“Our ancestors have always been here,” said Kith Dong, 54, as he and relatives dismantled his home of consisting of a grayling timber platform with a sloped tin roof off the shore of Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district.

He said the city order did not give his family enough time to relocate.

“If they extended by a few more months, we would have had time to build a home,” he added.

The Phnom Penh Municipality says the communities amount to floating slums that are eyesores and health hazards, with trash bags and raw sewage floating alongside the houseboats.

Si Vutha, head of Prek Pnov district’s land management office, oversaw the dismantling on Friday.

“There are 316 homes that we have to evict today. This really affects the beauty of the city, the environment. You sit on a boat, it smells very bad,” Si Vutha said.

He said the evictions were intended to clean up the capital ahead of Phnom Penh’s hosting of the 2023 South-East Asian Games, as the newly built stadium is only a few kilometres away.

“There are hundreds of viruses here, foreign tourists come and see our country like this?” he said.

But residents say the crackdown came too soon and questioned why they needed to move with the games still more than a year away.

Si Vutha did not specify why the clean-up had to come now, and Phnom Penh city spokesperson Met Meas Pheakdey could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Dang Van Chou, 57, moved to Cambodia more than 20 years ago from neighbouring Vietnam,

His family farms fish in enclosures off their dwelling, but this year’s fish are too small to sell to raise money for a move, he said.

“I don’t know where to go. I don’t have any land,” he added. — Reuters

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