Police and forestry officials burned more than 100 homes in Banteay Meanchey province Sunday in a land dispute that has villagers and authorities accusing each other of breaking the law, villagers and officials said.
Kong Rithy, a Ta Meas village representative, said Monday that the destruction in the village is an attempt to intimidate villagers with legitimate land claims in Svay Chek district’s Slakram commune.
Kong Rithy said that he and several other villagers were threatened and detained by police as authorities burned homes to the ground.
“We could not stop them when they burned the houses. They were accompanied by police and military police holding weapons,” Kong Rithy said.
Sixty families settled in the village in 2001 and began growing vegetables as well as coconut, banana, and jackfruit trees, he said.
Under the 2001 Land Law they should be issued land titles, he said.
But Vorn Sambor, village chief of nearby Boeung Snor village, said the legitimate number of land claims is much smaller than 60.
Only 16 families moved there in 2001, he said. Since then 85 families have grabbed land hoping to receive compensation when the government makes a concession deal for the land, he said.
“They had no permission [to move there]. They did so illegally,” he said.
District deputy police chief Y Sidy said that police only burned down already vacant homes belonging to “land grabbers.”
He denied threatening any
The homes violated forestry laws, provincial forestry Director Mao Savy said Monday.
“We did burn their wooden huts which infringed on state concession land,” he said of Ta Meas village.
Mao Savy said the land has not been leased to any companies but the Forestry Administration wants to avoid a situation in which a concession holder has to deal with land grabbing claims.
Representatives from local rights groups Licadho and Adhoc said Monday that they are investigating the case.