After two false starts with Chinese companies, Shukaku’s effort now has the backing of Inner Mongolia Ordos Hong Jun Investment Corp., a joint venture between two Chinese entities.
While workers moved in to drain the lake and pump in sand in 2008, armed police stood guard as most of the area’s more than 4,000 families — who were offered either land outside the city or modest cash payments — were ordered to leave. But hundreds of other residents, including Tep Vanny, refused to budge and began organizing protests. They also started writing letters to the Chinese Embassy. All went unanswered. But, in an interview with a state-owned Chinese newspaper, the embassy’s commercial attache, Jin Yuan, defended Chinese investors, saying they had played no role in evictions, which he said were solely the work of local authorities.
After repeated clashes between residents and police, the World Bank announced in August 2011 that it would suspend lending to Cambodia until authorities halted the evictions and agreed to fair compensation. Stung by the mounting criticism, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered that part of the area leased to Shukaku be registered as the property of more than 700 families still living in the area. But protests continued, and authorities cracked down hard. In May of this year, Tep Vanny and a dozen other women were arrested during a rally near a cluster of demolished homes and sentenced to 21
2 years in prison for “illegally occupying public land.”
The stiff sentences drew widespread condemnation and a plea for the women’s release from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Cambodia’s Appeal Court overturned the jail sentences. The crackdown, however, has since resumed, with two anti-eviction activists arrested early this month.
The future of the project, meanwhile, is mired in uncertainty. A high concrete wall has been erected around the sand-filled lake, but there is no sign of construction work. The sand is too soft to build on and could take up to a decade to settle sufficiently. Residents complain that draining of the lake has caused flooding during the rainy season and led to sewage leaking. Liu Xueming, an official with Ordos Hong Jun Investment in Phnom Penh, said he couldn’t discuss plans for the vanished lake. “This project is a little bit sensitive,” he said.
Wang Juan in Shanghai contributed to this report.