The Boeung Kak Lake was a lake in the center of urban Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It used to be a residential area for around nine villages surrounding the lake, in which around 4000 families lived . The lake was further a central source for food and income generation for the residential families, based on the use of related natural resources (i.e. fishing, water plants), as well as an important local water source. Boeung Kak Lake was the largest urban wet land in Cambodia.
In 2007, a 99-years lease concession worth $79 million and amounting to 133ha corresponding to the lake and surrounding areas, was granted to Shukaku Inc, a property development company owned by Lao Meng Khin, senator of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and an associate of Prime Minister Hun Sen. In 2010, a joint venture with Chinese Erdos Hong Jun Investment Co., Ltd. was created and the lease contract was re-registered under Shukaku Erdos Hongjun Property Development Co. Ltd. .
The company started to fill the lake with sand with the aim to “make land” for luxury property development in central urban Phnom Penh. As a result, an estimate of 20,000 persons were affected and threatened by evictions . Concerns were further raised from environmental scientists that the filling of the lake would disrupt the hydrological system, increasing the risk of flooding . Protests increased in intensity, involving villagers, activists and various NGOS.
In 2011, in a peaceful protest aiming at stopping evictions and entering negotiation to solve the conflict, several Boeung Kak Lake villagers were arrested and others were beaten by armed anti-riot police .
Protests reached the international level. In 2011, the World Bank suspended lending to Cambodia until an agreement with the residents would be achieved. (Note that however, World Bank’s Cambodia Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP), responsible for land titling, arbitrarily excluded Boeung Kak Lake villagers from land registration previously conducted in neighborhoods in 2006). The Cambodian government finally agreed to an alternative housing plan put forward by villagers and involved NGOs, and issued a sub-decree in which 12,44ha were allocated to around 800 families. Most families however were evicted and forced to accept compensation at less than $8000 - a fraction of the market value . Meanwhile, the company has entered into agreements to sell around 1% of the land (1,3 ha) to Singapore listed property development company HLH for no less than $14,9 million .
In 2017, all former residential houses have been torn down, most of the families have been evicted, protesters were criminalized, and the lake has been completely filled and turned into urban land for property development. Some families have been relocated into resettlement areas, but still do not have titles for that land either . What used to be a large lake in the middle of the city, rich of natural resources, a water source and the livelihood basis for many local residents, is nowadays an empty land area reserved for urban development, associated to urban evictions that likely had never been so large since the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh in the 1970s .