Boeng Kak New Year’s Blowout Draws Ire

Organizers of an $80-a-head, nationally-televised New Year’s Eve bash on the site of the former Boeng Kak lake are “dancing on Boeng Kak people’s tears,” an evictee from the neighborhood said on Tuesday.

Almost a decade after the government started evicting some 3,000 families from around the centrally located lake in 2008 to make way for a high-end real estate project backed by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin, the water has turned to sand, condominium construction is underway, and the developer is inviting the city to party.

“With strong support from City Hall, sponsors, and other companies, PTG International has cooperated with Phnom Penh City Center to create an entertainment in the special occasion of year end festival…by having two large scale live concerts on 25 and 31 December,” said a press release from Mr. Meng Khin’s firm, Shukaku.

Visitors willing to foot the New Year’s Eve concert’s $80 entrance fee will be rewarded with performances from marquee acts like Preap Sovath, as well as an open bar and buffet featuring Kobe beef imported from Japan and beer from beverage sponsor Angkor, said Sovann Arith Sao, general manager at event coordinator PTG.

“It is a good location,” said Mr. Arith Sao, citing the seven entrances to the area’s sandy plains. “It is a new place that has never organized any event yet.”

There is good reason for that, said Bov Sophea, an activist and evictee from the site.

“I think those who join in organizing the concert are happy with the company that evicted us,” she said. “They are dancing on the Boeng Kak people’s tears.”

Fellow evictee and activist Bo Chhorvy agreed.

“After even eight years of violence and making people hurt, they end up building condo apartments and having a party?” she said. “We get no benefit from it, but they get everything and hold a party on our sadness.”

Shukaku declined to comment for this story. Beijing-based Graticity Real Estate Development began constructing apartments on the 7.9 hectares of land it leased from Shukaku last year, with plans to add a five-star hotel, shopping mall and high-rise offices.

Mr. Arith Sao of PTG said the event’s organizers were focused on the future. “We don’t mention about the name like Boeng Kak lake,” he said. “We try to mention Phnom Penh City Center.”

Shukaku “would like to show their project—a big project with luxury houses and business…for the rich people,” he added.

They hoped that more modest, free concerts and small sales kiosks would also draw in the less well-heeled throughout the week, possibly as many as 100,000 people, he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, however, a handful of lonely vendors hawking Cellcard-emblazoned Pikachu dolls and knockoff perfumes had the oasis-like festival site to themselves. A half-dozen bored military police officers stood watch over passing traffic. The Boeng Kak activists said they had no plans to protest at the event.

The event was emblematic of the difference between the developer’s rhetoric and reality, said Soeung Saran, advocacy program manager for housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut.

“As far as we know, the main purpose of filling the lake is to make it useful for the public, and now it’s turned to benefit a small group of people who are rich,” he wrote in an email.

“It’s not reflective of the so-called ‘sustainable, innovative and integrated urban community’” promised by the development’s website, he added.