R’kiri villagers told to leave military-claimed land

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 Major Chhun Naren, deputy commander of the provincial military command, a group of eight soldiers warned villagers to vacate between two and three 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 the military’s land.

“We told a group of villagers to stop growing their crops on military land after they finished the harvest this year,” he said, adding that the land would then 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, rather than just two to three. She said the land had been farmed for years.

“About nine district soldiers came to villagers’ homes and threatened 14 families to move from farmland after the harvest, claiming that the land was for soldiers,” Ms Bunna said. “I am very afraid that powerful individuals colluded to sell the land,” she added.

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

“The former Lumphat district governor 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 land 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 that forestland or farmland was given to them by district authorities,” Mr Bonnar said. “We will keep investigating the case.”


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