chhuk district, Kampot province – Following the forced eviction of more than 200 families from the area, Chey Sezna village, located in a remote area near the border of Kampot and Kompong Speu province, was closed to reporters by the military Wednesday.
The village was sealed-off on June 22 by RCAF’s 31st Brigade when conflict broke out as residents resisted their eviction. With the village sealed, residents claim that they were forced by the military to move to scrub forest more than 7 km away that is without water or electricity.
A RCAF soldier manning a roadblock on the approach road to the village told reporters Wednesday that he was under orders to allow only military officials, Kampot’s governor, and residents into the area.
Defense Ministry Commander of Engineers Khvan Seam said Thursday that the village was sealed off “to prevent people from illegally occupying land or to incite villagers to protest.”
Adhoc investigator Chan Soveth said he and UN monitors were only given access to the village Wednesday after a request by the Cambodia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“The army walked with me like I was a prisoner [when I entered],” Chan Soveth said. “It made villagers scared to talk with me about their problem.”
Christophe Peschoux, head of the UN human rights office, said Thursday that monitors requested access to the area to investigate the villagers’ situation and speak with local military officials. UN officials would like to return to the area to gather more facts, he added.
Lont Lay, 49, who lives about 100 meters from the military roadblock, said that he had moved to the area about 5 years ago and had since cleared a half hectare of land on which he now grows corn.
Lont Lay said he feels his situation is similar to nearby Chey Sezna village. “I know this is state land, but it is not being used,” he said, “I feel it is my land because I cleared and developed it.”
“The army comes by almost everyday and says they will evict us. Last month, a house nearby was burned down by the army. A few weeks ago a soldier hit my nephew; he is in the hospital now.”