More than 100 police officers, armed with AK-47s, batons and shields, guarded two bulldozers as they knocked down 132 houses in Russei Keo district’s Chroy Changva commune on Friday, accusing the villagers of illegally living on the Mekong River bank.
Villagers were seen collecting their possessions, as bulldozers knocked houses down around them.
Three armed officers stood guard to prevent human rights representatives and journalists from entering the riverbank site.
At least five trucks were parked nearby the demolition work, waiting to transport some of the evicted villagers and their belongings to a relocation site in Dangkao district.
Villager Muth Chan Sophal said that police arrived at the dispute land at 4 am November 2.
“I asked them where they would take me to,” Muth Chan Sophal said. “They said they don’t know. I said to them that if they don’t know, don’t remove my house,” he said.
“They informed us we would be removed but didn’t say to where. We are not animals,” Muth Chan Sophal said, adding that he had been living on the land since 1987.
Villager Chea Sopheak, 38, said that she had been living on the land since 1980 and that authorities didn’t inform her in advance of the eviction.
“I request the government solve the problem in a suitable way. This is like a cold war,” Chea Sopheak said.
“The villagers are crying. This is not poverty reduction but poverty increasing,” she added, saying that no one had told her where she would be taken.
Russei Keo district Governor Khlaing Hout said riverbank land was being cleared to make way for racing boats during the upcoming Water Festival and for environmental reasons.
“I do it for the Water Festival, there is no place for parking the boats and for the environment,” he said. “They urinate into the river,” he added.
Khlaing Hout also said the villagers—who he claimed had only begun settling in the area in 2004 —were informed about the eviction three times in the past two months.
He said Cambodian families evicted from the riverbank would get 4-by-10 meter plots of land in Dangkao district, but that Vietnamese families evicted from the site would not get anything.
Licadho rights group investigator Chheng Sophors said Friday that 30 to 40 families had arrived at the relocation site in Dangkao district’s Trapeang Krasang commune, which lacks the most basic amenities for living. “There is no water, electricity or schools,” he said.
“When it rains, they have nothing to stay in,” he said.