Fears mount for future of iconic Bassac apartments

Check out the last few paragraphs, where representatives of the Bassac building residents attempt to draw a line between themselves and the ‘anarchic’ residents of Dey Krahom who were just evicted last week. I understand the desire, in the aftermath of the illegal and violent evictions, to distinguish the situation of the Bassac residents, but I think it’s an error both in legal terms, and in practical ones.

Legally, the residents of Dey Krahom had legal status. Like residents of the Bassac building, for the most part they didn’t have legal ‘title,’ but given the issues of titling post-civil war, that’s hardly unusual. They did have legal status via the prior concession awards, as I understand it.

So legally, it’s extremely doubtful that the Bassac building residents are any more protected than the residents of Dey Krahom. Practically, making this distinction also seems like a bad idea: these representatives appear to be trying to speak the language of the people who have consistently disregarded their own policies and laws. It simultaneously disavows solidarity with those already evicted, the lack of which solidarity can lead to tragic consequences, as we saw in the Dey Krahom eviction, where former evictees were used to evict and demolish the homes of Dey Krahom residents.

Finally, a note on the word ‘anarchic.’ This is almost certainly a translation of the Khmer word anadhipateyya (អានាធិបតេយ្យ), a word from Indic languages like Sanskrit and Pali which means, literally, ‘unruled.’ Its current usage is most commonly found in reference to land-settlements with ambiguous (or supposedly ambiguous) legal title, and is used as a slur on those living in a location about to be seized. Anarchism is a word in English with similarly ambiguous meanings: ranging from ‘disorder and chaos’ to the political ideology which opposes all forms of oppression and hierarchy via the practice of universal solidarity.

I for one hope that some Cambodians start to take up the latter understanding of the word, and put it into practice. Perhaps anarchism will provide the collective guidance to Cambodians whom hierarchical Marxist communism has failed so tragically.

But housing rights advocates are also worried that after Saturday’s eviction, which brought an end to the long standoff between residents and 7NG, the Bassac residents will be the next to go.

“I’m feeling that after all the forced evictions, many other places are vulnerable,” said Yang Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre.

“My analysis is that in line with the repeated statements of the municipality about the beautification of the city … they will evict [more] people. That has been their justification to date, so I am worried for these people.”

David Pred, country director of rights group Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, could not comment on the status of the building, but said that even if an eviction were to be attempted, residents would enjoy protection under the Land Law.

“People have lived and owned those apartments for decades … and they have land rights like everyone else,” he said.

Srey Sothea, the 7NG chairman, said the company had plans to build a “modern commercial centre including hotels and supermarkets” at Dey Krahorm, and had its eye on acquiring the Bassac apartments as a precursor to the development of the now-vacant land. But he added that no plans had yet been set in motion.

“We are also interested in the Bassac apartments, but we have not yet started researching whether the people there are interested in moving to live in another proper place or not,” he said.

However, the success of any bid for the buildings will hinge on the legal status of the residents and the land that they occupy. No sources contacted by the Post could confirm whether the building sits on private, state private or state public land, but local authorities are confident the occupation of the buildings is legal.

“[Bassac residents] have no land titles, but they have family books to identify where they legally live,” said Village 2 chief Nhem Sovann.

“They live in a legal building, not anarchic buildings like at Dey Krahorm.”

Khat Narith, Tonle Bassac commune chief, said that land titles were never issued because the people live in a “community building”, and said all residents would have to be paid a fair price for their homes.

“They are not like Dey Krahorm’s residents,” he said.

“If any company would like to buy [the buildings], that company has to offer people market prices.”

via The Phnom Penh Post – Fears mount for future of iconic Bassac apartments.


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