Five families remained Wednesday on the 585-hectare plot of land in Sihanoukville’s Prey Nop district that was the site of a reportedly violent eviction beginning Tuesday at dawn and finishing Wednesday morning, officials said.
The families, comprising about 20 people, have pitched tents on the land—which was cleared of 41 homes—in protest of the eviction in Bit Traing commune, SRP commune chief Luck Kean said.
“They are facing suffering. They cannot even find the plates and cooking pots,” he said, adding that police and military police continue to surround the area and are refusing to let NGO workers or journalists visit the families. “This is like holding hostages,” Luck Kean said. Five villagers who were handcuffed and taken away from the site of the eviction Tuesday have yet to return, he added.
Municipal Governor Say Hak said the five families are being paid by unnamed land-grabbers to remain on the plot. He declined to say whether or not he was planning to kick them off the land.
“They sleep there to guard the land. They even have axes and knives for chopping landowners,” he said. “The villagers are uneducated and poor, so they just did it.”
He refuted claims that the families were being denied visitors and again denied that anyone was detained during Tuesday’s melee. The five disappeared villagers were community leaders who fled the scene of their own accord, he added.
“No one took them away. They were scared and ran away. They are ringleaders,” he said, maintaining that the eviction was in keeping with the land law. “How can there be development if we can not guarantee land stability?” Say Hak asked, adding in reference to Luck Kean: “The person who talks will face trouble…. Wait a moment and you will know.”
Municipal military police commander Heang Nin said Wednesday that he didn’t know whether five people had been arrested.