An attacker on Monday set fire to a building occupied by three families in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district who are at the center of a long-running land dispute with a private company, according to a joint statement by five local rights groups.
The rights groups—including Adhoc, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, and the Housing Rights Task Force—said the incident appeared to be the latest in an ongoing campaign of violence and intimidation against the families over their land in Boeng Kak I commune.
“On the night of 17 March 2014, an unidentified man set fire at four different locations on the three families’ land but luckily no one was injured, as a man sleeping outside the house warned the residents,” according to the statement.
The suspect escaped without being seen, the rights groups added.
In addition to Monday’s attempted arson, the families have been attacked by thugs numerous times, had their pets poisoned, had excrement thrown at them, and, on one occasion, had a bag of deadly cobras thrown through a window while they slept.
The statement by the rights groups said it was unclear who had started the fire, but noted that all of the incidents of harassment had taken place since the families became involved in a land dispute with the Khun Sear Import Export company last year.
Ly Seavminh, 22, who lives in the building along with her family, said this was just the latest of many attempts to kill them.
“We heard an explosion at about 2:30 a.m. and we saw the fire burning inside our house and we tried to get out, but we could not since the fire was burning too much,” she said.
“Luckily, my father’s cousin had been sleeping outside the house to keep watch and brought water to put the fire out with the help of passersby on the street,” she added.
Boeng Kak I commune police chief Ham Kea said police would investigate the alleged arson.
“We will check the location and investigate the case to see whether someone tried to burn the home,” he said.
The rights groups on Monday also called on the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to investigate a number of court complaints filed last year by the families over both the violence and the original land dispute, which have been ignored so far.
Representatives of Khun Sear Import Export could not be reached for comment.