­­Preah Sihanouk Court Evicts Scores of Villagers

Workers demolished 62 houses in Preah Sihanouk province’s Stung Hav district Thursday and evicted about 70 residents after the provincial court decided to act on a long-standing ruling that deemed the families to be living on the land illegally, an official and a rights worker said.

Provincial court director Mong Mony Chakrya said Thursday that he ordered 30 workers, accompanied by about 100 police and military police officers, to implement the court’s decision to evict the members of the O’Domrey community in O’Tres commune.

A woman gathers her belongings Thursday after being evicted along with about 70 others from a plot of land in Preah Sihanouk province's Stung Hav district. (Sot Piseth)
A woman gathers her belongings Thursday after being evicted along with about 70 others from a plot of land in Preah Sihanouk province’s Stung Hav district. (Sot Piseth)

“The land owner is now negotiating with the villagers who were staying on the land and has prepared to provide a policy for those people,” he said.

Cheap Sotheary, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said 149 families had been living on the nearly 24-hecatare plot of land since 1989, but that the court had already removed most of them.

According to Ms. Sotheary, a businesswoman named Him Sovannary received six land titles for the entire area in 1997 and then filed a complaint with the court accusing the villagers of illegally squatting on her property.

“The eviction was an injustice for those people, because they had lived on the land before the woman won the lawsuit and they were recognized by local authorities through a family book,” she said.

Provincial governor Chhit Sokhom said Ms. Sovannary was based in Phnom Penh and that she held a land title for the plot.

“I am not sure whether the villagers came to stay first, but the land owner told me she had provided a solution for some of the families,” Mr. Sokhom said.

Meng Ritha, 46, who said he had lived in a wooden house on the land since 1989, said Ms. Sovannary met with the evictees Thursday and promised each family a 5-meter-by-30-meter parcel of land in the same O’Domrey area.

“I have not yet agreed to accept the new land because I want to get my [old] land back,” he said, adding that seven families had so far accepted the new plots.

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