Seven Huts Burned Down On Disputed Land

Fifty villagers from Battam­bang province’s Bavel district protested outside the National Assembly Monday morning, hours after se­ven more homes in the district were burned down, a rights worker said.

This is the latest chapter in a sim­mering land dispute between 3,170 families living on over 10,000 hec­tares of contested forest land in the Ampil Pram Doeum commune and what hu­man rights wor­kers have descri­bed as a rogue band of RCAF soldiers bent on taking the land.

Villagers have been ordered to leave by Oct 30 or face forced evic­­tion, according to villagers and rights workers. They claim that RCAF soldiers have detained villagers and burned down a total of 27 homes in recent months.

Ing Kong Chit, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights monitor in Battambang, said villagers have reported that former Khmer Rouge fighters from Regiment 53 of RCAF’s Battalion Two burned down the seven huts on Sunday night, and that district authorities did nothing to stop them.

Bavel district governor Tim Dareth said commune officials have informed him that “unknown offenders” burned down empty huts. He added that no one was living in the structures and that most of them had only been set up by villagers in an attempt to claim land and sell it.

Yorm Moeun, deputy commander of Battalion Two, denied his men had burned down villagers’ ho­mes.

“My men helped put out the fla­mes because it was near where my unit is stationed,” he added.

The protestors in front of the As­sem­­bly called on Prime Mini­ster Hun Sen to release three villagers—Chhea Ny, Mol Sab, and Em Lak-who were arrested in recent months for allegedly en­croa­ching on private property.

The protestors handed out copies of letters that Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior, and Heng Samrin, pre­sident of the National Assembly, had written to Bat­tam­bang Go­vernor Prach Chan and the Bat­tambang court requesting that the three men be released on bail. Those letters, they said, have produced no results.

“We request Samdech Hun Sen’s help,” protester Oeun Sarim said.

Heng Samrin, who is also CPP ho­norary president, could not be con­tacted for comment, while In­terior Ministry spokesman Lieu­tenant General Khieu Sopheak referred questions to Bat­tambang officials.

Battambang Provincial Court Di­rector Nil Non said he was un­awa­re of the letters.

“Officials have the right to inter­ve­ne but the decision de­pends on the independent judge.” he ad­ded.


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