Soldiers accused of arson, seizing buffalo in dispute

Police in Kampot province are investigating a complaint filed by a villager in Chumkiri district accusing armed soldiers from RCAF Intervention Brigade 11 of setting fire to his house Tuesday and seizing two of his buffalo, police said yesterday.

Chres commune police chief Tep Bunnak said that Moch Sam Ath, 35, has been in a long-running land dispute with Brigade 11. He confirmed RCAF soldiers had confiscated two buffalo from Mr Sam Ath, but declined to comment as to whether the soldiers had set his house on fire.

“It is the individual conflict among villagers in my commune and soldiers,” Mr Bunnak said, adding that commune police officers met with Mr Sam Ath and are investigating the alleged violence.

“It was so violent that those soldiers, armed with handguns, chased me and tried to beat me up because they want my land,” Mr Sam Ath said, adding that he had lived on the two hectares of land in Chres commune since 1997.

“After failing to hurt me, they went to destroy my fertile rice paddy; then those cruel soldiers caught a pair of my buffaloes and took them away,” Mr Sam Ath said.

Contact information was unavailable yesterday for members of RCAF Intervention Brigade 11.

The dispute in Chres commune dates back to 2005, when soldiers accused some 30 families of moving onto their land, according to Prum Piseth, a Chumkiri district-based rights worker with the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. Since then, at least 50 hectares of rice paddy owned by villagers have been occupied by soldiers, some of whom have sold the land to Phnom Penh residents after local land prices “skyrocketed” in 2007, he added.

“Their activities in grabbing villagers’ farmland seriously abused human rights,” Mr Piseth said.

Commune chief Ou Yoeurn declined to say whether Mr Sam Ath or soldiers legally owned the disputed land.

“What I can say is that [Mr Sam Ath] is my resident for many years,” Mr Yoeurn said. “Although he has no land title to prove his ownership, he has ID cards and his family book issued by local authorities. The RCAF soldiers claim legal ownership of the land.”


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