Homes on Disputed Battambang Land Torched

RCAF soldiers allegedly de­stroyed at least 50 homes in a rural part of Battambang province Tuesday in connection with a years-old land dispute, a human rights worker said.

Adhoc investigator Chan So­veth said Thursday at least 40 stick-wielding soldiers poured gasoline on the houses and set them ablaze in Kors Kralor district’s Ta Khau village.

The houses had stood on a 150-hectare plot. One pregnant wo­man allegedly was injured during the incident, Chan Soveth said.

“It is very unjust for these farmers, because they were forcibly evicted,” he said. “They are helpless without having farms to live on and to make a living.”

The land is part of a 450-hec­tare parcel sold by a military commander to a businessman several years ago, Chan Soveth said. The farmers cleared the land and be­gan farming on it in 1994, when the area was unoccupied.

In June, at least 90 families erected tents so they could stay in the disputed area around the clock because of fears that their newly plowed fields would be seized.

But Military Region 5 Com­mander Bun Seng on Thursday denied that his subordinates were involved in Tuesday’s de­struction. He said “individuals” not affiliated with the group must have been part of the dispute.

Bun Seng reiterated an earlier claim that the land was occupied by the military until 1998, but was handed over to district authorities when peace was made with the Khmer Rouge.

Meanwhile, in Kompong Speu pro­vince, 12 families were re­moved from their land Monday by provincial authorities after the families lost a court decision, pro­vin­cial Military Police Com­mander Men Siborn said Thurs­day.

The families had claimed that the land in Phnom Sruoch district, but the provincial court ruled recently that the land be­longs to a military tank unit, Men Siborn said. “We carried out the court decision to move those villagers out,” he said.

At least 200,000 poor Cam­bodians are involved in land disputes with powerful people, but few have land titles to substantiate their claims, according to one study.

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