Almost all of more than 100 families still living on disputed land near Sihanoukville’s Kbal Chhay waterfall were finally cleared out from the site on Tuesday morning by state security forces, who proceeded to tear down many of families’ crude houses.
The forced eviction came just over a week after the 120 families living on the land agreed to move to new 5-by-20-meter plots of land near a garment factory outside Sihanoukville, according to a local rights worker.
However, despite the deal and an ongoing campaign to evict people from the site, some of the residents said they were still caught off guard.
“They never told us before, ‘You go to the new land and start to build yourself a house there,’” said Sam Dy, 46, who has a house and jackfruit field on the disputed land. “They just came and said ‘Remove yourselves—go—you have land there already.’”
The evictions are part of an ongoing land conflict involving about 3,000 families living on state-owned land about 15 km from the coast.
Most of the site’s residents are poor day-laborers in town who bought patches of land there without a title, lured by cheap offers from opportunists and speculators. The state began to evict them from the area in November.
Yun Min, the provincial governor, promised to give those on the disputed land new plots, but many residents had refused to go, saying the new space was too small for them to make a living.
On January 20, however, about 120 holdout families finally agreed to an offer from Mr. Min to enter a lottery to decide which plot they would receive, said Bun Narith, who has been monitoring the evictions for rights group Licadho.
“They said they would enter the lottery for land from the state,” he said.
Tuy Vanny, who had land at Kbal Chhay, said he went to the site on Tuesday morning and was surprised to see the crew of police and military police officers.
“They evicted nearly all of them,” he said. “I wasn’t brave enough to get too close.”
Mr. Min, the provincial governor, could not be reached on Tuesday.