Armed Force Stands Down in Land Dispute With Villagers

An armed force of about 200 military police, police and soldiers in Kandal province abandoned an effort to enforce a court decision in a land dispute after villagers armed with sticks, axes, machetes and spears confronted them, an official and rights workers said.

The soldiers had accompanied work crews driving excavators and bulldozers that aimed to clear 54 hectares of farmland awarded to former Kien Svay district governor Prak Savuth by the provincial court in July 2010.

“There were 10 trucks…of about 200 [security forces] facing against around 300 villagers. They fired 11 times into the air to threaten the villagers who were holding axes, machetes, spears and sticks,” said Ouch Leang, the pro­vincial land dispute monitoring chief.

District governor Heng Thiem said the armed forced intended only to deter the villagers from be­coming violent.

“We did this to stop any violence, and we try to calm them down,” he said. “We agreed to withdraw the forces to avoid any violence against the villagers.”

Villagers said earlier this month that they did not appeal the provincial court decision because they had no faith in the court system.

Sorn Sopheap, a village representative, said the villagers felt little choice yesterday but to stop the forces from seizing the land.

“There was a lot of tension on both sides when the gunfire threatened us, but our villagers were not afraid because our villagers have no farmlands if they grabbed all. So we have no choice. We are protesting for our farmlands,” he said.

He said the farmers’ use of the land predates Untac elections, and is rightfully theirs.

Men Makara, the chief of monitoring for Adhoc, said yesterday that Mr Savuth had requested that the land be given to Cambodians living in Thai refugee camps in the 1980s.

When the refugees left the land in the early 1990s, the villagers moved in. But Mr Savuth insisted that the land still belonged to him, he said.

 

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