Kampot Villagers Given Ultimatum: Leave or Face Legal Action

Bokor National Park officials have issued an ultimatum to more than 300 villagers living illegally inside the park in Kampot province, telling villagers they must leave by the end of Nov­ember or face legal action for grab­bing state-owned land, the park’s director, Chey Uterith, said Wednesday.

The villagers claim they have lived on the land for at least four years and have refused to leave despite attempts by police and RCAF troops to forcefully evict them.

Last week, soldiers and police burned down hundreds of small houses and huts belonging to the villagers in Chhuk district’s Ta­ken commune—rights workers say seven were injured in the eviction. Authorities say the villagers have lived on the land less than a year and that the land belongs to the government.

“Now we set the deadline for them to leave by the end of the month,” Chey Uterith said by telephone.

“If they don’t, we will file the case to the court,” he said, adding that there are only about 137 families left out of the original 313.

Chey Uterith said that CPP senator and commodities tycoon Mong Reththy has offered to give the evicted villagers jobs in Stung Treng province.

Contacted Wednesday, Mong Reththy, who owns a major construction and agro-industry company, confirmed that he was willing to offer employment and land in Stung Treng province, close to Laos, to the villagers who don’t own land.

“If they don’t actually have the land and jobs they can go [to Stung Treng],” Mong Reththy said, adding that the villagers could work on his rubber plantation in Siem Pang district, about 600 km north of Phnom Penh. The villagers would be offered free transport if they choose to go, he said.

Vowing to continue the fight for the 20-hectare piece of Kam­pot land, Danh Ry, a 52-year-old villager, said he and others were aware of the state’s ultimatum to leave but they would not go voluntarily, or to Stung Treng.

“No one will agree to leave; it is too far…” Danh Ry said.

Try Chhoun, Kampot provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, agreed with the villagers that Stung Treng was not a good alternative. There is still plenty of land left in Kampot where they can be resettled, she said.

“It is too far,” she said. “They should not move them halfway across the country.”

Rights group Licadho’s investigator Chheng Sophors said his organization together with Adhoc and the UN human rights office had brought $2,500 worth of food to the villagers Wednesday.

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