sihanoukville – Plainclothes police and military police officials drove a bulldozer through about 30 occupied tents pitched outside the wall of a Sihanoukville property from which occupants had recently been evicted, witnesses and the villagers said Sunday.
The move followed the Feb 14 eviction of about 131 families from land owned by Ohkna Kong Triv, who has claimed legal title over the Serendipity Beach area where he has said he plans to build villas, hotels and a resort.
After receiving $75 in compensation, most of the families moved to other areas of Sihanoukville’s Mittapheap district. Some have left to live with family members in other provinces, while a small number who say they are too poor and have no other place to go set up camp bordering Kong Triv’s land, villagers and officials said.
“I was cooking rice with my children when I saw the bulldozer coming,” said Chon Sophea, 30, as she sifted through broken bits of wood and plastic—the remains of her household goods.
“When I tried to complain, a policeman poked me with a cattle prod,” she said, exposing a series of irregular bruises on her middle back and ribs.
Other villagers, including Tat Savang, 44, reported receiving threats of physical violence from police if they did not vacate the area. She said they were given no warning that the bulldozer was coming, and were sent scrambling as it flattened her family’s tent and belongings.
Calls to Kong Triv were unsuccessful Sunday.
Mittapheap district Governor Kong Samoeun confirmed Sunday that district police had evicted the 30 families, but denied they used any violence.
“[The people] living on the street are an eye-sore for tourists…. Some families are poor but others are not. They have other places to live,” he said.
A coordinator for rights group Licadho based in Sihanoukville also said he neither witnessed nor received any reports of police using violence against the families.
The families, some of whom say they have been living in the area for more than 10 years, are now squatting on the other side of the same road. They said Sunday they would like to live elsewhere but cannot afford to buy or even rent land with the $75 they received.
“I did not even accept the $75,” said construction worker Som Pala, 41, who said he would need at least $1,000 to resettle his family in the area. He said he did not fear having his property bulldozed again because there was no where else for him and his family to go.
The villagers appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen to provide new land for their homes.
But they said they were skeptical the premier was concerned for their welfare after a group of 92 villagers—who had camped out under a tree near the National Assembly in Phnom Penh for 15 days—had been promised by Hun Sen’s adviser Bun Kheng on Feb 21 that they would not be removed from the area and that the prime minister’s Cabinet would solve the dispute.
Reached by telephone Sunday, Bun Kheng would not deny or confirm that he had met or spoken to the villagers. He said Hun Sen had dispatched representatives from the Ministry of Land Management to conduct a survey of the land.
Bun Kheng said he was not aware of any form of violence being used to evict the villagers.
Asked whether Hun Sen would help relocate the 30 families still living on the roadside, he said: “First, Samdech premier wants to know how many families really have no land [on which] to live.”