R’kiri Villagers Ordered to Move Off Farmland Claimed by RCAF

A group of RCAF soldiers on Fri­day warned villagers in Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat district to leave RCAF-claimed farmland after the next harvest, villagers and a military commander said yesterday.

According to Major Chhun Na­ren, deputy commander of the pro­vincial military command, a group of eight soldiers warned villagers to vacate between 2 and 3 hec­tares in Kaleng commune—part of 109 hectares granted to RCAF for de­velopment in 2004.

Maj Naren accused the villagers, who hail from nearby Batang commune, of encroaching on military land. “We told a group of villagers to stop growing crops on military land after they finished the harvest this year,” he said, add­ing that the land would be used to feed soldiers.

But Batang commune villager Thiem Bonna, 36, a member of the ethnic Tampoun minority, said villa­gers had been told to vacate about 200 hectares after the next harvest, not just 2 or 3. She said the land had been farmed for years.

“About nine district soldiers came to villagers’ homes and threat­ened 14 families to move,” Ms Bonna said. “I am very afraid powerful individuals colluded to sell the land.”

District governor Kong Srun said former governor Kloun Sun, who died in 2007, granted land to Maj Naren to build a military base.

“[Mr Sun] gave around 70 hec­tares to build a military base,” he said. “I have not heard information about the impact on villagers’ farmland, because the villagers have not filed a complaint to authorities.”

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said Adhoc was investigating the dispute after being contacted by villagers over the eviction threat.

“It is illegal for the military to use the threat of eviction to villagers, al­though the military claimed forestland or farmland was given to them by district authorities,” he said.

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