A final appeal by residents in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany, was for naught, as they tearfully watched their homes demolished yesterday.
Residents called out the first couple’s name before excavators and a bulldozers razed 44 homes in Tuol Sangke commune’s Tuol Kok village, carrying out a 2007 Supreme Court order awarding the land to a senior government minister.
The prolonged dispute between the residents and Senior Minister Khun Haing, deputy head of the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution, is now over, said district governor Khlaing Huot.
“The land belongs to Mr Khun Haing, because he has the land title,” Mr Huot said.
Mr Huot and deputy Phnom Penh prosecutor Hing Bunchea, accompanied by 200 military police and district police officers and Mr Haing’s bodyguards, oversaw the order’s implementation, said Mr Huot.
“This land dispute was prolonged and complicated. But our local authorities successfully ended this problem and removed a headache for us,” Mr Huot said, adding that the residents believed the events were orchestrated long before yesterday by powerful men. He declined to elaborate.
“This is very unjust for our 42 families,” said Kun Sunlok, 42.
“We don’t know where we will stay.”
Ms Sunlok claimed that the families had been living there legally. “It is unjust because we bought this land legally. Now they stormed our property and demolished our homes,” she said as she and other women wept in front of her home as authorities ordered two excavators and bulldozers to raze the village.
Ms Sunlok wondered aloud why, if the land belonged to Mr Haing, he let them live there for so long: “Why allow us to build, to buy and fill earth and live here for seven years?”
She said the value of the homes ranged from $80,000 to $120,000. “We are sorry that our houses were demolished, because they were equally our lives.”
On Wednesday, Ngeth Both, a representative of the Tuol Kok village residents, said the land had been sold to the residents by Taing Chhun Eng, the wife of Meas Savoeun, the former owner of the land and winner of the original lawsuit in 2004. After appeals lodged in 2007 were heard by the Appeal Court and Supreme Court, the land was instead awarded to Mr Haing.
Yesterday, Mr Both said, four women fainted, including his wife, and required medical attention.
One house in the village to avoid destruction was once owned by Deputy Prime Minister Nhiek Bun Chhay, Funcinpec secretary-general, Mr Both said, adding that Mr Bun Chhay had sold it to Mr Haing.
Mr Bun Chhay said yesterday that he empathized with his former neighbors, all former Funcinpec members.
“I sold my house at a cheap price a year ago. I left the area. I used to help our people for many years to try to suspend the Supreme Court decision,” Mr Bun Chhay said. “I am sorry that I cannot help them, that I have no ability to help them. I have pity for my colleagues that their houses were demolished, that I can’t help reach a compromise in their case.”
Chan Soveth, chief monitor for the human rights organization Adhoc, saw the destruction as a waste.
“They demolished dozens of buildings without considering those houses are expensive,” he said, denying that the residents did anything wrong. “Our villagers did not steal those land lots. They bought it from owner Meas Savoeun, who won the court case in 2004,” he said, noting that Mr Savoeun was arrested in Preah Vihear for illegal logging in 2007.
Mr Soveth held out hope that the residents could seek compensation.