kompong speu province – Yeak Tong is hiding now. He is in a house a safe distance from the 42.5 hectares of land in Aural district that he and his family claim to own, a claim supported by district-level documents.
The 74-year-old says he won’t go back to Aural until it is safe, although there is little to return to in Sangke Satob commune. The neat rows of fruit trees Yeak Tong planted six years ago are gone, as are all of his personal belongings.
But for more than a week, Yeak Tong has at least had his freedom.
For nearly four months beginning on Dec 25, he was held at the provincial prison, initially without warrant, accused of violently resisting eviction from his Aural land by RCAF on Nov 14.
In January, Kompong Speu provincial court sentenced Yeak Tong and seven others to a year in prison for resisting the eviction. On April 12, they were all released and put on one year’s probation by the Appeals Court.
Now Yeak Tong says he still faces danger because of his land, its complicated history and a tangle of documents.
Yeak Tong’s family possess eight commune registration certificates attesting to ownership of connecting plots of land totaling 42.5 hectares. They claim to have bought the plots from the previous occupants in 2000.
However, on April 12, the Appeals Court awarded Yeak Tong’s land, and the land on which 286 families lived, to a group of 36 people who claimed ownership of the entire area.
Official titles to the land in the names of the 36 were presented to the court. The titles were date-stamped by the Cadastral Commission in 1997, and they are legally stronger than the registration certificates that Yeak Tong holds.
He claimS that those titles were made fraudulently, and that an RCAF officer has used the names of 36 nonexistent people to claim the land in the area.
Video footage shot by a villager during the Nov 14 eviction shows lush vegetation and sturdy wooden homes with gardens. RCAF soldiers can be seen pointing AK-47 assault rifles at villagers, tearing down fences and starting up chainsaws. Villagers scream at the soldiers and the video cuts off. Later, the video shows bullet holes in walls and an alleged bullet graze on one man’s head.
Now the village is gone, replaced by a moonscape, desolate and hot with few, if any, trees.
On Yeak Tong’s property there is nothing now but weeds and a new police post, installed for “security purposes,” one of the two officers stationed there said.
“I will not return to that place until they give us our land back” and local officials involved are fired, Yeak Tong said.
“We are local people and they did not stand up for us,” he added.
On Tuesday, Yeak Tong and his family met in Phnom Penh with Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, who is deputy chairman of the newly established National Land Dispute Authority.
Yeak Tong wants the authority to decide his case on television, as the authority said it plans to do with the cases it takes on.
Eng Chhay Eang gave $10 to Yeak Tong and each of the seven other men released by the court on April 12. He also attempted to organize a meeting with the authority’s chairman and Cabinet Minister Sok An, Yeak Tong’s daughter, Yeak Sokhim said.
Sok An was unable to meet with the group, she said Wednesday.
Kompong Speu first deputy provincial governor Kang Heang said that Yeak Tong and others involved in the Aural dispute were in no danger.
Kang Heang also said he had been told that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser Om Yentieng, who also serves on the land dispute authority, has arranged for the families to get new land.
“The authority is allocating a reasonable size of land for them,” he said.
However, Om Yentieng said Thursday that he personally has no land to give to the villagers, but added that a solution will be found for the villagers within several days.