More than two-thirds of around 2,300 ethnic Vietnamese families living in a “floating village” on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake have been evicted from their homes, a local official said Friday, despite concerns over a lack of infrastructure on the land demarcated for their relocation.
Authorities have removed all but around 700 families from the lake to land about one kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) away in Kampong Chhnang province and in the province’s Rolea B'ier district, provincial deputy governor Sun Sovannarith told RFA’s Khmer Service.
The families that remain have been allowed to stay because their homes use floating nets to farm fish, he said, adding that they “will be evicted by July.”
“Those families who are raising fish, we will delay moving so that their fish will not be affected” while authorities work to complete infrastructure on the land they will be relocated to, Sun Sovannarith explained.
Among the infrastructure projects being prepared are facilities to provide water and electricity, as well as health centers, “for those who can legally live in Cambodia,” he said, adding that anyone who lacks required documentation will be deported to Vietnam.
“By law, illegal immigrants will be deported,” Sun Sovannarith said.
Sam Chankea, the Kampong Chhnang provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, confirmed to RFA on Friday that authorities had sent all but around 700 ethnic Vietnamese families to relocation sites.
He said that the relocation sites “have not been completed,” and that the land provided as a concession to the ethnic Vietnamese “belongs to Khmer villagers.”
Adhoc spokesman Soeng Sen Karuna told RFA that ethnic Vietnamese will continue to inhabit “floating villages” on the Tonle Sap until the authorities eradicate corruption, because the families rely on fishing to earn a living and local officials accept bribes to look the other way when illegal structures are built on the lake.
“The Tonle Sap is a public lake and we shouldn’t allow squatter shelters to be constructed on it,” he said.
Attempts to reach Khmer-Vietnamese Association President Sim Chi, who has been monitoring the eviction process, were unsuccessful on Friday.
In November, Sim Chi had expressed concern that authorities began relocating families a month earlier to sites that lacked basic infrastructure and urged Cambodia’s Interior Ministry to intervene in the eviction until authorities built sufficient facilities on the land.
He also noted at the time that the ethnic Vietnamese had been residents of Cambodia “for many generations,” and that anyone living in the country for more than seven years is entitled to apply for citizenship.
The move to evict the residents of the “floating village” follows a campaign two years ago that saw thousands repatriated to Vietnam from their homes on the Tonle Sap, where global warming and overfishing have reduced the seasonal inflow and outflow of water on the environmentally threatened lake.
In November, Pot Kimsruoy, the president of Kampong Chhnang-based nongovernmental organization Ethnic Rights Protection, told RFA he welcomed government efforts to protect the environment, but echoed concerns about relocating the villagers to an undeveloped site.
He noted at the time that when the government agrees to accept immigrants, it must protect their basic rights.
Animosity between Vietnam and Cambodia goes back centuries, but was heightened by the Vietnamese war in 1979 that ousted Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and paved the way for long-ruling prime minister Hun Sen’s ascension to power.
Accusations over the demarcation of the border between Vietnam and Cambodia have become a prominent feature in Cambodian politics as Hun Sen’s opponents have attempted to paint the strong man as a tool of the Vietnamese.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.