Almost one year after armed security forces evicted more than 600 families from Kompong Thom province’s Kraya commune at gunpoint, displaced villagers say they are now living in acute poverty at a relocation site, without amenities and farmland promised as compensation.
Human rights workers said yesterday that provincial authorities had failed the villagers in every respect.
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese Tan Bien-Kompong Thom Rubber Development Company, which took over the cleared village lands, has provided its workers with housing, electricity and running water, according to a human rights worker.
Pho Yin, 37, said that without farmland, her family and other villagers were struggling to make a living at Thma Samleang relocation site in Santuk district.
“We are having a bad time living here,” she said. “We were evicted about one year ago, but we haven’t got the promised farmland yet. We planned to grow cassava when we receive the farmland, but they lied to us again and again.”
Ms Yin said villagers had been forced to seek work as day laborers in the surrounding area. Her husband, she said, had started clearing forest in other villages but during this work he contracted malaria. He died from the disease in October.
“My living standard is more difficult now that my husband died and I have to support my two daughters alone,” she said.
Ms Yin’s family was one of 602 families who were chased from Banteay Ra’Ngeang on Dec 6 by about 200 armed security personnel and forcibly moved to Thma Samleang, a scrub forest area located around 5 km away where they were told they could clear 20-by-40-meter housing plots.
Tan Bien-Kompong Thom Rubber Development Company was granted an 8,100-hectare economic land concession in 2007 to construct a rubber plantation and a rubber latex plant in the depopulated village area. Following the eviction, provincial officials insisted each family would be compensated with a hectare of farmland before the start of this year’s rainy season.
Sun Sokhim, 38, said her family and many other villagers had decided months ago that they could no longer wait for authorities to hand over the land.
“We left the relocation site because it was difficult [to live] there, we had no food to eat,” she said. “They promised to give us the land this month, then that month and then before Pchum Ben, but we never got it.”
Kompong Thom provincial governor Chhun Chhorn acknowledged officials had failed on their pledge to give the villagers the farmland in time.
“I am sorry that we are late to give them land,” he said. “We know they have a living problem.”
Mr Chhorn said officials had been unable to allocate new land, as they needed more time to clear it from forest and some parts of the land they had planned to give away were already in use by a few dozen other families.
The governor said authorities now simply planned to dispossess these other families of some of their land to give it to the displaced Kraya villagers.
“We will confiscate some land from any of these families…because they illegally took state land,” he said.
Mr Chhorn said he expected the new farmland to become available to the resettled families in mid-2011, about 18 months after their forced eviction.
Nhem Sarath, Kompong Thom monitor for the human rights group Adhoc, said provincial authorities had handled the aftermath of the eviction poorly.
“Now it has become two issues. The evicted families have not received the promised land and they created a new issue by taking farmland from other villagers,” he said.
Mr Sarath added that about 60 families, whose land the authorities now wanted to confiscate, were preparing to file a legal complaint with rights groups Adhoc against this plan.
Ouch Leng, Adhoc land program officer, said Tan Bien-Kompong Thom Rubber Development Company had meanwhile constructed new housing for its workers, with running water and electricity.
“The villagers live like animals in the jungle compared to the company workers,” he said, adding, “The government never cares about…the living conditions of the [displaced] people.”