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Boeung Tamok Lake Filling near Samroang Tboung village, Phnom Penh, Cambodia


Description:

Boeung Tamok is a natural lake on the northwestern outskirts of Phnom Penh and is one of the area’s last remaining lakes [3]. Boeung Tamok spans 3,240 hectares with more than 300 urban poor families living nearby who are at-risk of eviction or loss of their subsistence fishing and lotus farming livelihoods [11, 20]. The lake is also important for flood protection, wastewater treatment, fish, plant, and bird species, and as a natural freshwater reservoir [5, 20].

In recent years, it has been further threatened by government sub-decrees to fill in over 900 hectares of the lake, for urban development without local consultation or consent [10]. 300 of these hectares were given to the Defense Ministry on June 22, 2020 to build a new base, with the rest given to private developers and other ministries [5]. The authorizations violate a 2016 decree declaring the lake as public land and legally not allowed to be sold or leased [2]. However, the government calls the space “empty public land” and thus free for development [14]. Additionally, there are illegal land sales happening with some people buying land from others who did not own it in the first place [3]. Environmental impact assessments, required of all investment projects and state developments, have become hidden from public view. NGO Forum, which unlike other groups had previously been given access to the documents, said the Environment Ministry stopped consulting it about the assessments last year [8, 9].

Lake filling has been a problem in Phnom Penh and the surrounding area since 1990, resulting in 16 of 26 lakes being completely filled and another 10 being partially filled [6]. More about lake filling and violent evictions is available at: https://ejatlas.org/conflict/boeung-kak-lake-evictions-phnom-penh.

Samraong Tboung village residents have petitioned and protested for land titles and residence certifications to be able to build proper homes, but local officials say that the villagers have no legitimate claims to the land despite having lived there for a long time. Moreover, authorities regularly come to demolish villager’s homes when they are out [3]. The development projects also have been destroying critical rainfall reservoirs, causing severe flooding in the city during heavy rains [2, 4].

The lake has been degrading for years owing to the urban encroachment, with more sewage getting pumped into it, and killing the fish. The residents can no longer use the water for bathing or drinking [6]. Furthermore, fish population declines have led to a loss of cultural practices and traditional values among the community as youths can no longer see a future there [19]. 

On August 13, 2020, a group of around 30 protestors from environmental rights youth group Khmer Thavarak peacefully demonstrated gathering outside of the municipal court to release and drop charges against lake activist Rong Chhun from the Phnom Penh Correctional Center. The protesters were forcibly dispersed by an elite unit of the security personnel known as “Khan 7 January.” Those who attempted to continue protesting outside the building were beaten and kicked by the security personnel, leaving at least 10 of them injured. Chhoeun Daravy, a founding member of Khmer Thavarak, had been livestreaming the protest from a distance when two plain-clothed officers grabbed and assaulted her, then took her backpack along with her money, ID, and bank cards. She was next pushed into a car and arrested while other officers went to search her house. Meanwhile, Khmer Thavarak founder Hun Vannak and five other members were also captured from the organization’s safehouse in Pur Senchey. Police alleged that the activists were inciting disorder and were charged with conspiracy to commit a felony [1]. 

On September 3, 2020, 28-year-old Thun Ratha, 22-year-old Long Kunthea, and 19-year-old Phuong Keorasmey from environmental rights organization Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC) organized a peaceful women’s march with about 30 fellow protestors to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence to petition for land rights and call attention to the dangers of filling in Boeung Tamok [1]. Ratha was livestreaming the march as Keoreaksmey and Kunthea hosted a “live show” [2]. However, capital security guards pushed them away and arrested Ratha, Kunthea, and Keorasmey [3]. On October 8, 2020, the Court of Appeal denied bail for Thavrak and Daravy, alleging that it was to prevent the two from committing further crimes. Bail was also denied for Ratha, Kunthea, and Keorasmey [1]. Charges against them were based on their social media posts about the protest march spreading “false information,” inciting crime, and recording without permits. Ministry of Interior started a smear campaign warning the public not to participate in any of MNC’s “illegal activities” [2].

Throughout 2021 so far, widespread criticism of the government’s grants being given to tycoons with sizable donations to the state as well as government officials’ family members (such as Land Management Minister’s daughter Chea Sophara given lake land for her personal estate or Hun Sen’s wife, brother, son, and daughter all getting land for their businesses). This has led to Hun Sen cancelling some of the land grants while also being openly “tired of the negativity” and “jealous criticism,” saying that “even if you condemn it, we will still do it” [5, 7, 13]. Additionally, the government has agreed to allow construction of a concrete retaining wall to prevent further erosion and preserve some capacity to store rainwater. However, officials state that they will continue to take strict administrative and legal measures against anyone opposing or trying to stop or prevent further development [18]. Local families continue to petition for land titles regardless, explaining that they only need 5 hectares for everyone [5]. They face a similar fate to those from Boeung Kak, who likewise are not getting any compensation despite forced evictions [20].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Boeung Tamok Lake Filling near Samroang Tboung village, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Country:Cambodia
State or province:Phnom Penh
Location of conflict:Samroang Tboung, Prek Pnov
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Urban development conflicts
Military installations
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Project area:3240
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:22/06/2020
Company names or state enterprises:Heng Akphivath Company from Cambodia
ING City Project from Cambodia
Orkide Villa from Cambodia
PTT Chea Sophara Street from Cambodia
Café Amazon from Cambodia
Chatomuk Theater from Cambodia
Renakse Hotel from Cambodia
International and Finance InstitutionsAsian Development Bank (ADB)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Equitable Cambodia, Cambodian Center for Human Rights, LICADHO, the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), Sahmakum Teang Tnaut

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Informal workers
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Women
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of livelihood

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Court decision (undecided)
Migration/displacement
Repression
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The urban development plans continue with little impunity for the violence against lake activists and no compensation for the displaced villagers.

Sources & Materials

[5] VOD. Capital’s Largest Lake to Lose Over 500 Hectares to State, Private Sector (Leakhena 2020) (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/capitals-largest-lake-to-lose-over-500-hectares-to-state-private-sector/

[2] Frontline Defenders. THREE ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS DEFENDERS ARBITRARILY DETAINED (2020)
https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/three-environmental-rights-defenders-arbitrarily-detained

[6] VOD. Boeung Tamok residents appeal to Hun Sen for land titles (Dara 2021) (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/boeng-tamok-residents-appeal-to-hun-sen-for-land-titles/

[3] VOD. As Boeng Tamok Is Carved Up, Lake Residents Ask for Land Titles (Dara 2020) (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/as-boeng-tamok-is-carved-up-lake-residents-ask-for-land-titles/

[13] VOD. Businesswoman who received Boeung Tamok plot is land minister’s daughter (Dickison 2020). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/businesswoman-who-received-boeng-tamok-plot-is-land-ministers-daughter/

[14] VOD. More of Boeung Tamok to be filled in for justice ministry storeroom (Leakhena 2020). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/more-of-boeng-tamok-to-be-filled-in-for-justice-ministry-storeroom/

[15] Phnom Penh Post. Lake set for development (Bunthoeurn 2020). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/lake-set-development

[4] Phnomh Penh Post. Govt scraps deals on Boeung Tamok Lake (Kimmarita 2021) (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/govt-scraps-deals-boeung-tamok-lake

[7] VOD. Civil service ministry getting bigger, eyes Boeung Tamok lake plot (Dara 2021) (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/civil-service-ministry-getting-bigger-eyes-boeng-tamok-lake-plot/

[1] Frontline Defenders. HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS CHHOEUN DARAVY AND HUN VANNAK ARRESTED AND CHARGED (2020).
https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/human-rights-defenders-chhoeun-daravy-and-hun-vannak-arrested-and-charged-and-charged

[27] LICADHO. 3 environmental activists imprisoned, 2 youth activists arrested (2020). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://www.licadho-cambodia.org/flashnews.php?perm=280

[8] VOD. Government backtracks on 30 hectares of Boeung Tamok allocations (Dara 2021) (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/government-backtracks-on-30-hectares-of-boeng-tamok-allocations/

[9] VOD. Hun Sen says he is tired of ‘jealous’ criticisms over lake-filling (Sophea 2021). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/hun-sen-says-he-is-tired-of-jealous-criticisms-over-lake-filling/

[10] VOD. Government allocates another 22 hectares of Boeung Tamok lake (Leakhena 2021) (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/government-allocates-another-22-hectares-of-tamok-lake/

[16] Phnom Penh Post. Lake filling in capital draws CSOs concern (Koemsoeun 2020). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/lake-filling-capital-draws-csos-concern

[11] VOD. Government cuts, swaps nearly300 hectares of Boeung Tamok for privateowners (Leakhena 2020). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/government-cuts-swaps-nearly-300-hectares-of-boeng-tamok-for-private-owners/

[12] VOD. Questions raised over Boeung Tamok plot handed to ‘families’ (Techseng 2020). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://vodenglish.news/questions-raised-over-boeng-tamok-plot-handed-to-families/

[17] Phnom Penh Post. Deadline to vacate Phnom Penh’s largest lake set (Bunthoeurn 2020). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
C:\Users\trand\AppData\Local\Box\Box Edit\Documents\LQIuUY_m_02Z3Q61Qr2g3Q==\Prek Pnov district authorities have notified local fishermen to remove lattices and ponds completely from the Boeung Tamok Lake by the end of this year

[18] Khmer Times. Tamok lake slated for development, reservoir to get retaining wall (Sela 2021). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
C:\Users\trand\AppData\Local\Box\Box Edit\Documents\LQIuUY_m_02Z3Q61Qr2g3Q==\The Premier added he is tired of some groups who still keep criticising the development project and the reclamation of land from the lake

[19] Khmer Times. Fishermen worried for their future as lake getting filled (Nariddh 2021). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50804750/fishermen-worried-for-their-future-as-lake-getting-filled/

[20] RFA. Cambodian environmental group calls for end to development on Boeung Tamok (Lipes 2020). (Accessed 14.05.2021).
https://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/lake-07302020152159.html

Meta information

Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update30/04/2021

Images

 

Boeung Tamok

Phnom Penh’s Tamok lake on May 20, 2020. Photo Hun Sirivadh

Mother Nature Cambodia

Mother Nature activists call for an end to development on the Boeung Tamok Lake in Phnom Penh. Photo Mother Nature Cambodia

Boeng Tamok filling

Trucks dump dirt as they fill in land at Phnom Penh’s Boeng Tamok lake, on October 28, 2020. Photo Michael Dickison