Human rights workers accused three provincial military officials in Kompong Speu of ordering at least 50 soldiers to torch houses and throw dynamite in Po village in an attempt to scare villagers off disputed land the military claims as its own.
Ten witnesses and the Po village chief told investigators that Military First Lieutenant Buth Sopheap and instructors Chhay Sovann and Sok Chamroeun from the Thmat Pong Military School orchestrated the razing of at least 14 houses in their village last Thursday, said Chan Soveth, an investigator for the human rights group Adhoc.
Chan Soveth, speaking on behalf of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said 50 families from Po village complained to his group, saying that the military burned down the houses to scare the villagers off the land. No deaths or injuries were reported. The military officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Kompong Speu Military Police Commander Men Siborn said Buth Sopheap tried to scare villagers from the area because he feared they would burn down the military compound.
Men Siborn has previously said that the villagers burned down their own village and blamed the soldiers for the incident.
The military has surrounded the area and is refusing entry to anyone, Men Siborn said, adding that more than 200 families are affected by the blockade. He said the villagers are staying with relatives in the area.
Kompong Speu province Governor Uo Bun said the Ministry of Defense owns the land, but the military and villagers have been arguing over ownership of Thmat Pong Military School territory since early 2000.
He said the villagers, who are from Ang Snuol district, Kandal province, have constructed huts on the land to give the impression that they live there, but in fact they reside elsewhere.
Kompong Speu provincial authorities asked the villagers to vacate the area last year, but they refused, Uo Bun said.
Co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath, who had not received any official reports about the burning incident, said the disputed area is being used to expand the Thmat Pong Military School. He said the military would never use force to remove people from land.
The CHRAC is sending its completed report on the incident to provincial authorities and asking them to intervene.