S-ville Familes Prepared for a Violent Showdown Over Land

More than 300 families invol­ved in two separate land disputes in Sihanoukville municipality said Monday they are preparing for a violent showdown with municipal authorities.

“Our villagers so far have knives, axes, gasoline, and vehicle tires ready for a confrontation,” said Uy Sambath, 38, who is acting as a representative for 103 families in Mittapheap district’s Pram Muoy village.

The families claim that municipal authorities are trying to push them off 17 hectares of land on which they have been living since 1989.

Villagers in Prey Nop district’s Pou Thoeung village are also gearing up for a fight. Lun Thontry, 54, said the 180 families he represents are ready to defend—by force if necessary—over 300 hectares of land on which they claim they have been living since 1993.

In separate letters, both dated Jan 19, Sihanoukville Governor Say Hak warned the villagers that if they did not leave the land by last weekend, he would order police to forcibly clear the properties.

Say Hak said that last year, villagers in both areas started building homes illegally on land that did not belong to them.

“We want to provide justice for the landowners,” he said, but declined to identify those landowners.

According to Pram Muoy villagers, the dispute in their village turned bloody on Sept 25 when more than 90 armed men, including plainclothes military police and police, attempted to demolish villagers’ homes.

Soeun Sarun, 48, claimed that her husband was shot twice in the legs when he and others resisted.

“I just need Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen to come here to witness our hard life and to see how his officials are hurting his voters,” she said Monday.

Say Hak confirmed that the shoo­ting took place but said he had not ordered police to fire on the v­il­l­ag­ers. A local landowner might have hired officers to clear the land, he said.

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