Police and military police in Kratie province’s Snuol district on Wednesday burned to the ground 56 homes they said were on protected land, causing displaced villagers to block National Road 76 in protest for four hours, officials said.
Snuol district Governor Kong Kimny said Thursday that the villagers had illegally cleared more than 5,000 hectares of protected land in Khsim commune, which borders Mondolkiri’s Keo Seima district.
“We decided to burn the houses to force those families to move from the land,” Mr Kimny said, adding that the villagers had received four prior warnings.
“I have told the people to get a letter from local authorities to say that they do not own land and we will offer a social land concession.”
Many of the villagers, however, had moved to the area from other provinces to clear and farm the land and would not be eligible for a concession, Mr. Kimny said.
Sam Phin, one of the evicted villagers, said that he had moved to the area from Svay Rieng province in 2010 and that he had cleared protected forest in order to farm cashews, banana and cassava.
“Those people cleared the land and were selling it for around 300,000 riel [about $75] per hectare,” Mr. Kimny said.
After the police and military police razed the village at around 1 p.m., some 300 villagers moved to National Road 76 and blocked the road, as about 100 military police stood by.
At 5 p.m., and with no interference from the military police, the villagers left after Mr. Kimny promised to find a solution for them.
In a separate incident in Pursat province Thursday, 47-year-old Sen Sien was charged with illegal encroachment of protected forest land and placed in pre-trial detention, according to Eng Chhun Han, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho.
Ms. Sien was detained Wednesday after protesting another fiery eviction of a community that had moved onto land in Veal Veng district’s Krapoeu Pi commune, which they were evicted from in 2012 but re-inhabited early last year.
Kheang Leng, district police chief, said that the villagers were offered, and accepted, compensation the first time they were evicted.
“In 2012, authorities provided them with a 50-by-200 meter plot of land but in the beginning of 2013 they returned to take over the land they had left,” Mr. Leng said.
Phuong Sothea, coordinator for Adhoc in Pursat, said that 28 villagers had signed and filed a complaint with Adhoc over the arrest of Ms. Sien.