Cambodia begins evicting floating homes amid protests

By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, began overseeing the dismantling of "floating home" communities on the banks of the Tonle Sap River on Saturday, amid objections from longtime residents who say they have nowhere else to go .
For generations, the floating wooden houseboats of Phnom Penh have been the livelihood as well as the way of life for mostly ethnic Vietnamese families, the home of fish farming and connected by a maze of handcrafted bridges interrupted by sunken poles and small boats.
"Our ancestors have always been here," said Kith Dong, 54, as he and his relatives dismantle his house, which consists of a wooden grayling platform with a sloping tin roof, off the coast of Phnom Penh's Prek Pnov district.
He said the city order had not given his family enough time to move.
"If they were extended by a few months, we would have time to build a house," he said.
The Phnom Penh community says the communities are floating slums, which are eyesores and health hazards, with garbage bags and raw sewage floating alongside the houseboats.
Si Vutha, head of the Prek Pnov District Land Management Bureau, oversaw the dismantling on Friday.
"There are 316 houses that we have to vacate today. That really affects the beauty of the city, the environment. When you sit on a boat, it smells very bad," Si Vutha told Reuters.
Si Vutha said the evictions should clean up the capital ahead of the Southeast Asian Games hosted in Phnom Penh in 2023, as the newly built stadium is just a few kilometers away.
"There are hundreds of viruses here, foreign tourists come and see our country like this?" he said.
But local residents say the raid came too early and wondered why they had to move away with the games for more than a year.
Si Vutha did not say why the purge needed to happen now, and Phnom Penh city spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey was not available for comment on Saturday.
Dang Van Chou, 57, moved to Cambodia from neighboring Vietnam more than 20 years ago.
His family makes a living raising fish in pens next to their home, 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 have no country," he said.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Kay Johnson and William Mallard)

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