Chey Szena villagers in Kampot province’s Chhuk district complained Monday that they are running low on food and continue to be intimidated by RCAF soldiers, who first sealed off their village June 22.
The confrontation between villagers and soldiers from Brigade 31 began June 21 when Forestry Administration officials told the more than 1,000 Chey Szena families that they had to relocate to make way for a tree nursery.
Try Chuon, provincial Adhoc coordinator, reported that soldiers were patrolling the village Monday, dismantling homes and demanding money from the villagers.
“The soldiers asked for 50,000 riel from villagers to transport their material to a new place,” she said. “The villagers’ faces are pale due to a lack of food to eat. They look panicked,” she added.
Try Chuon said Licadho and Adhoc have provided a lawyer for four villagers who were detained last week over the land dispute.
A 35-year-old villager, who declined to be named, said by telephone Monday that soldiers had removed her home Sunday.
“Soldiers told us to move out or they would use bulldozers and not give us any land as compensation,” she said. “My children and I had to sleep in a field.”
The land they are offering, she said, is already owned by other villagers and is 30 km away.
“The new place is very far in the forest. The land is covered by rock, which is hard for cultivating and building houses. That place also has no water,” she said, adding that if it weren’t for the nongovernmental organizations from Phnom Penh who provided assistance Sunday, she would not have had anything to eat Monday.
Sim Vuthea, an administrator for the government’s Social Land Concession Committee, said Monday that soldiers have not been preventing villagers from trading food supplies.
“We don’t block villagers from entering [the village]. We just block modern cars and land dealers,” he said.
Sim Vuthea denied claims of intimidation, saying that soldiers had been assisting villagers who were voluntarily removing their homes.
“The soldiers help them freely. They don’t charge any money,” he said. He also said that the alternative land being offered as compensation to the villagers is only 3 km away, and has fertile land and road access.
The commander of RCAF Brigade 31, Sun Saroeun, could not be reached for comment Monday.