K Thom Villagers Protest Against New Land Grab By Authorities

About 40 villagers in Kompong Thom province’s Santuk district protested Saturday against provincial authorities’ plans to bulldoze their land and re-allocate it to several hundred other families evicted from a site in Kraya commune last year, villagers and rights workers said yesterday.

Poe Oumoete, Kompong Thom provincial monitor for human rights group Licadho, said the villagers led a peaceful protest against workers who were bulldozing parts of their farmland.

Penh Dorn, 49, said authorities on Saturday cleared a swathe of his 1-hectare plot. “Now I do not know what to do because authorities bulldozed my farm. Please Samdech [Hun Sen], help us,” said Mr Dorn, a father of six children.

He said villagers were loath to protest, because they feared being detained by local authorities.

Neth Sao, 57, a representative of the families, said about 20 military policemen had been deployed to protect the machinery used to clear the land. He said he had gone into hiding after authorities accused him of leading villagers in their opposition against the land clearing.

“Now I am hiding because authorities are looking for me,” he said.

On Dec 3, 160 families filed a complaint with Licadho against government plans to take some of their farmland and give it to displaced families living at a nearby relocation site.

Last week, the authorities began clearing the land in order to prepare plots for 602 families living at the relocation site.

These families were evicted at gunpoint from Banteay Ra’Ngeang community by 200 armed security forces last December to make way for a Vietnamese firm’s rubber plantation.

Santuk district governor Pich Sophea said that 77 displaced families would receive a 1-hectare plot of farmland this week, after it had been cleared and seized from more than 60 families. These latter families, he alleged, had been living on state land illegally.

“We think that they cannot be moved away but they will keep smaller pieces of land,” Mr Sophea said, adding that military policemen were stationed in the area to prevent any possible disruption of the land clearing.


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