Sitthixay Ditthavong

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On 3 January 2012, with the approval of the Cambodian Government, a team of over 100 police and security guards from the development company Phanimex demolished more than 200 homes in Phnom Penh's Borei Keila community in a brazen act of land grabbing.

Despite failing to meet a 2003 agreement to provide sufficient alternative housing for the residents, they then forcibly moved residents to Phnom Bat, Oudong, some 45 kilometres away from the city - a relocation site without clean water, electricity or sanitation. Back in Phnom Penh, policemen quelled protesting residents with tear gas and rocks, ultimately locking up 38 people in unlawful detention.

Nguk Lon, 65.

"I am partially blind, and have no money. Yesterday's rain made things very cold at night. Things will only get worse here."

L-R: Kak Sony, 43; and Khan Sokkoe, 39.

"We weren't able to save anything from our house, because we weren't home when the bulldozers came...When we got home, out house was flattened. The company sent us here in a truck...The company doesn't care about us. They left us here and want nothing more to do with us. We don't know what will happen tomorrow, we'll just live here as long as we can."

"Everything is hard now. I spent the last of my money on the blue water drum but the well here is not good, it is not good water. I don't know what I can do. I used to be a moto driver but now we're too far from the city. I am waiting for a NGO to help me - even a tent would be something."

L-R: Jet Leaplen, 3; Rua Sokhir, 24; Dinar, 2 months.

"This is all I have. Nothing, I have nothing. I've stopped producing milk in one breast, and the baby cries a lot. Some of the others here give me milk sometimes.

I'm not sure what will happen to us next. I'm just waiting."

Nat Chun, 70.

"I don't have enough food. I brought only my clothes, a pot, and a mat. Now that's all I have.

I have a grandson in Phnom Penh. If I can get a plot of land here, I'll ask him to move to a school near here so that he can help me."

L-R: Jay, 2; Chim Saran, 55; James, 3.

"I used to sell snacks in Phnom Penh for a living. I'm very angry because I've lost it all. I've had no help, not even from any NGO.

I worry about my grandsons because they haven't had much to eat. I don't think things are very safe for them here either."

L-R: Reoung Chanty, 22; Trach Nita, 1; Trach Chanty, 1; Koy Khamera, 28.

"We only brought a pillow, mosquito net, and the clothes on our back. My answer will be no different to anyone else because we are all in the same situation. We lost our jobs at the markets because it is too far from here. Our house was destroyed. Now the company wants to push us out from here as well."

L-R: Rheun Vijat, 25; and Sray On, 21.

"I'm not certain about my future now. I don't have any income, it went when I lost my job as a moto taxi driver. I can't stop worrying about everything right now - I just feel lost."

L-R: Shitar, 15; and Banya, 12.

"We used to run this shop from home but not any more. We started selling things here the day the people arrived. We're here from 7am to 9pm..."

L-R: Mao Sok, 31; Nat Sophy, 3; No Sreymona, 25; Nat Sothea, 3 months.

"I was a construction worker, but now I've lost my job. As you can see, we don't even have a roof. I'm worried that my son and daughter will get sick because it's cold at night.

The company doesn't care about us. This is their land and they might move us on."

Yean Sean, 30.

"My husband gave me HIV and went off with another woman. I also have tuberculosis... I have an eight year old daughter, but she stays with my mother. I am borrowing these tarpaulins to sleep under as it's icy cold at night.

People here are OK with my HIV, they don't treat me differently, but I am too far from the city to get my medication. I've been dumped out here and I don't know what to do."

The resettlement site for victims of the Borei Keila land grab in early January 2012, some 45 kilometres away from their original homes in Phnom Penh. The site does not have access to electricity or clean water.

Two men who were victims of a land grab operation by development company Phanimex in Borei Keila, Phnom Penh in January 2012 at the forced resettlement site, some 45 kilometres away from their original homes. The site does not have access to electricity or clean water.

L-R: Noun Srey Von, 10; Cheng Von, 50; Ouk Mei, 51.

"I cannot walk and neither can my daughter. I don't know why, she's been that way since birth. I was at hospital when the eviction happened. What can we do? We don't want to stay here but we have no choice. The company might not even let us stay here."

Emotions often ran high at the resettlement camp, where residents accused some others of pretending to be homeless in a bid to profit from any material assistance that might be forthcoming from non-government organisations.

Aou Ny, 73. "The company said they will send people to get rid of us if we stay here... at night, the wind comes down from the mountain like snow..I brought some clothes with me, but I've hidden them because I'm worried about theft."


A large number of my friends are increasingly preoccupied with buying houses or having kids. Some are better at one task than the other, but the numbers steadily grow. House. Baby. Baby. House. One day we’ll leave this house to our baby. Maybe if we buy and sell enough houses, we’ll be able to buy more houses.

I know that not everyone is this lucky. I know this because in January this year, a team of over 100 police and security guards from the development company Phanimex  demolished more than 200 homes in Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila community in a brazen act of land grabbing with the approval of the Cambodian Government.

Despite failing to fulfill a 2003 agreement to provide sufficient alternative housing for the residents, the company then forcibly moved them to Phnom Bat, Oudong, some 45 kilometres away from the city. Tears erupted when they arrived to discover that they were being dumped on a patch of land with no clean water, electricity or sanitation. Back in Phnom Penh, policemen used tear gas and rocks to quell residents who managed to stay behind to protest. Thirty-eight people were ultimately locked up in unlawful detention.

On the same day that the Borei Keila residents were unceremoniously trucked in and dumped at Oudong to fend for themselves, an enterprising local family set up a stall on the site to sell food and supplies to the newly homeless. I wonder when our appetite for profiteering from the vulnerable will be sated.


SITTHIXAY DITTHAVONG  studied photography at the Sydney Institute of Technology and marine biology at James Cook University before embarking on a career as an Australian diplomat, covering political and economic developments in Asia, the South Pacific, and the Middle East. He returned to Griffith University’s Queensland College of Art where he is currently completing a Master of Visual Arts (Photojournalism). He is on the editorial board for the 2012 issue of The Australian Photojournalist.

Sitthixay was a finalist in both Asian Geographic’s Asia Without Borders photo contest and the 2011 Zeiss Photo Contest. He has been exhibited both locally and abroad, been published in Danish paper, Kristeligt Dagblad, Queensland’s Courier Mail, and counts the University of Melbourne and The International River Foundation among his clients. He was an official photographer for the 2011 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Sitthixay has been selected as Documentary Arts Asia’s 2012 Artist in Residence and will spend three months in Chiang Mai, Thailand, completing a documentary series and running workshops for local practitioners from February 2012. His work will also be exhibited in the 2012 Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival.

More of Sitthixay’s work can be seen on his website.