About 30 environment officials, military police and police burned some 20 wooden homes to the ground in Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district yesterday after villagers refused to obey a court decision ordering 400 families to make way for a conservation area, villagers and rights workers said.
The eviction occurred at gunpoint in Anlong Veng commune’s O’Embil village and began at about 8 am, said 52-year-old Nou Soeung, who lost his home.
“[The officials, police and military police] did not warn us before they forced us out [of our homes],” Mr Soeung said.
District governor Yim Sophana defended the actions taken by authorities and said provincial authorities and environment officials were merely implementing the provincial court ruling. Mr Sophana did not know how much of the land in the area had been slated as a conservation area.
“We prepared other land for them to live on,” Mr Sophana said, adding that houses measuring 20 by 40-meters had been arranged at a nearby site for each family.
“They are illegally living on the land, because they bought it from a cheat who told them he was an environment official, which was not true,” he said.
Srey Naren, provincial investigator for rights group Adhoc, confirmed that the authorities had forced villagers from the disputed land, but said he had not looked into the case yet.
“I received information that 20 houses were torched…. Villagers refused to move, because they have lived on the land for a long time,” Mr Naren said.
Deputy commune chief Ang Samnang said that about 30 military police and police had forced the villagers out by gunpoint and that the commune authorities had to negotiate with the district authorities to put out the flames.
“We negotiated with the district authorities to stop the fire after about 20 houses burned down,” he said, adding that the villagers had lived on the land since 2001, and that villagers had bought the land from an environment official.