After knocking them down several times only to see villagers rebuild them, police set 20 wooden shacks in Russei Keo district on fire Sunday, officials and villagers said.
“We have cleared the shacks from the public land six times, but they have tried to reconstruct them again and again,” Chroy Changva Commune Chief Pich Saroeun said Monday.
“They ignored our orders,” he added. “If they are really landless, homeless and poor people, they should ask the local authorities for help from the government.”
Villagers said more than 10 Russei Keo district and Chroy Changva commune police and officials arrived at Dem Kor village and set the shacks on fire while the villagers were eating lunch.
“I got permission from district Governor Khlaing Huot to burn those shacks, otherwise they would take the material and build the shacks again,” Pich Saroeun said.
Khlaing Huot could not be contacted Monday.
Villager Sok Sophy, 54, claimed that police threatened to arrest any villager who tried to put the fires out.
“Those authorities want to take this land to sell to business people,” she said, adding that she has lived on the land since 2000. On Monday, more than 50 of the villagers gathered in front of City Hall in the hope that Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema would intervene.
“I just want the municipality to respond to our complaint and say whether they are going to help powerless and ordinary people or whether they will support the officials,” villager Sok Khea said.
In a separate incident, police shot into the air Sunday when more than 100 families allegedly tried to attack Russei Keo district officials who were visiting a village in Phnom Penh Thmei commune where villagers were accused of encroaching on private land.
“In order to save my officials, I must order police officials to shoot into the air…otherwise my officials would be beaten dead because the villagers carried hoes,” Russei Keo District Deputy Governor Tep Veasna said.
A 20-year-old man, Pin Khuot, was arrested after he allegedly tried to hit officials, Tep Veasna said. Tep Veasna accused villagers of grabbing land to get compensation from the government.
“When they get compensation from the municipality, then they grab another area,” he said. “It is their business.”