Workers with one excavator and guarded by soldiers with assault rifles and electric batons began clearing the last remnants of housing from contested land in Russei Keo district’s Phnom Penh Themei commune on Tuesday.
The group of about 40 camouflaged RCAF soldiers and white-shirted workers said they arrived at the site around 4:30 am to finish off the removal of 545 families whose forced eviction began Friday.
“We need to clear everything here because these cottages are constructed on land that belongs to other people,” said a soldier who declined to identify himself and would only say his military unit was based in Russei Keo district.
A worker named Khom said he and the other workers were part of a special group formed by district officials to resolve the land dispute.
District officials led by Russei Keo Governor Khlaing Huot began clearing the squatter community on Friday, bulldozing homes after the Council of Ministers awarded titles for the land to nine families.
The workers stopped the eviction around 6 pm Friday; over the weekend villagers protested in front of the National Assembly and submitted complaints to the prime minister’s office and Interior Ministry seeking a stay of the eviction order.
Villagers on Tuesday called the workers “gangsters.”
“We’ve lost our confidence in the government,” said a villager who identified himself only as Sothea.
“Our complaints to the prime minister’s cabinet and Ministry of Interior have not solved anything,” he said. “Instead, district officials have hired gangsters to clear our homes again and again.”
Khlaing Huot and municipal officials could not be reached for comment.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he had received the villagers’ complaints and the ministry would be investigating soon. He would not say if the ministry had authorized the eviction and would not comment on why the villagers were forcibly evicted.
“It is not the policy of the Ministry of Interior or policy of the military to make violence,” he said.