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Chinese lakeside link confirmed

Boeung Kak residents protest against the Chinese involvement in the
controversial development of the Boeung Kak lake at Phnom Penh’s
‘Freedom Park’ yesterday. Photo by: Pha Lina
Prime Minister Hun Sen has approved a joint-venture partnership to
develop the controversial Boeung Kak lake project involving a Chinese
firm and a local company linked to ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin,
according to a document signed by the premier and Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema.

In
2007, local developer Shukaku Inc, owned by Lao Meng Khin, was granted
a 99-year lease to develop the lake. In a letter dated November 12 of
last year and obtained yesterday, Kep Chuktema wrote to Hun Sen to
inform him that Shukaku had established a partnership with China’s
Inner Mongolia Erdos Hung Jun Investment Co.

“Shukaku’s owner
has asked to register the land in the 99-year lease agreement … 
under the new name of Shukaku Erdos Hung Jun Property Development Co,
Ltd, for directly implementing the project in the Boeung Kak area,” Kep
Chuktema wrote.

Hun Sen initialled the letter on November 27 along with a brief, handwritten notation reading: “agree to the offer”.

Rights
groups say the emergence of the document, which confirms earlier
reports of Chinese involvement in the lake development, underscores the
lack of transparency surrounding the project and the willingness of the
government to approve large-scale foreign investment deals without
assessing the consequences for local residents.

The lakeside
development, which rights groups say will ultimately displace more than
4,000 families, is the largest and most prominent example of the urban
evictions that have displaced thousands of the capital’s poor in recent
years. Protests by Boeung Kak residents have become a weekly occurrence
in Phnom Penh, as homes are flooded or even submerged by the filling of
the lake and villagers charge that they are being denied market value
in compensation for their homes.

Kep Chuktema’s letter follows
Chinese-language news reports from September stating that Hung Jun had
set up a partnership in July with Shukaku and Cambodia International
Investment Development Group.

CIIDG is also linked to Lao Meng
Khin. According to an undated government investment publication
available online, the firm runs a special economic zone in
Sihanoukville, with Lao Meng Khin listed as the “zone developer”.

In
a 2009 announcement to the Malaysian stock exchange, Malaysia’s Leader
Universal Holdings announced a proposed joint venture agreement with
CIIDG to develop a coal-fired power plant in Sihanoukville. The listed
headquarters for CIIDG in the announcement is the same Daun Penh
district address that houses Pheapimex, a local conglomerate owned by
Lao Meng Khin’s wife, Choeung Sopheap.

In September, Hung Jun
chairman Wang Linxiang traveled to Cambodia for a meeting with Hun Sen
that was also attended by Choeung Sopheap. The lake development was
part of a US$3 billion package of investment deals that also included a
750-megawatt power station in Sihanoukville and a bauxite exploration
project in Mondulkiri province, according to Chinese news reports.

At the time, Eang Sophalleth, assistant to Hun Sen, told The Post that the meeting was to discuss the power station project and real estate developments, but did not mention Boeung Kak lake.

The
prime minister, Eang Sophalleth said, “fully supported” Hung Jun’s
proposals. Eang Sophalleth did not respond to a request for comment
yesterday.

Shukaku representative Lao Vann declined to comment yesterday on the Hung Jun partnership.

“I
don’t know about this, and now I am sorry, I’m busy finding a solution
for people who have volunteered to receive compensation,” he said.

Chinese
Embassy spokesman Qian Hai denied that any Chinese firm was involved
with the project, declining to comment on Kep Chuktema’s letter or the
Chinese news reports on Hung Jun’s involvement.

“There’s no Chinese company involved at this stage,” he said.

Some
Boeung Kak residents said this week that they would boycott all Chinese
products if Hung Jun does not send a representative to negotiate with
them.

“We will starve to death if they do not find a solution
for us and forcibly evict us from our homes,” 32-year-old lakeside
resident Naon Sok Nen said yesterday.

City Hall claims around 2,000 families from the lack have already accepted compensation packages.

Those
facing eviction have received varying compensation options, including
cash payments of $8500, housing at a relocation site in Dangkor
district, or on-site relocation, the plans for which have yet to
materialise. In the meantime, many of those still in their homes have
complained of rashes and health problems as the lake-filling inundates
the community with floodwaters and sewage.

“The Chinese… should
conduct the impact assessment and should do a public consultation with
the residents,” said Sia Phearum, secretariat director of Housing
Rights Task Force.

Kep Chuktema said in his letter to the
premier that the relocation process was going smoothly, held up only by
“powerful people and opportunists trying to make difficulty for the
company”. But Nora Lindstrom, programme development manager at local
housing NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, called this claim unfounded.

“Faced
with forced eviction, it is the residents right to demand adequate
compensation that does not push them into poverty,” she said in an
email.

Sia Phearum said Kep Chuktema and his subordinates
likely felt pressure to emphasise “potential for development and
benefit” rather than giving a proper account of the project.

“The
residents really want to meet with the government, top leaders of the
municipality, or the private companies, both local and Chinese,” Sia
Phearum said. “They want to support the government, but so far, there’s
no public consultation – they never consult with the people.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

Phnom Penh Post
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Categories: Local News
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