Some 100 armed soldiers faced off with an equal number of villagers on a disputed patch of forestland in Siem Reap province’s Svay Loeu district on Sunday after the civilians tried to stop an excavator from clearing trees for a reservoir to serve a planned barracks and military training grounds.
The villagers—who are representing 75 families who have been living in the area since 2002—saw the excavator at work on Saturday and returned Sunday morning to intervene, worried that the reservoir would flood their homes, according to Boeun Bai, who helped lead the protest.
Mr. Bai said that at about 11 a.m., about 100 soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ Region 4 showed up and used wooden barricades to confine the villagers to a stretch of road from which they could reach neither the excavator nor their homes.
“The soldiers…kept us from going back home until 2 p.m., accusing us of disturbing the military’s work,” he said. “They are bad soldiers because they kept us from going back home even though our children were hungry and thirsty.”
Mr. Bai said the families had filed a complaint against the soldiers with rights group Adhoc. Adhoc provincial monitor Chan Chamroeun confirmed that he had received the complaint and said his organization would investigate.
Region 4 chief of staff Pov Heng confirmed Sunday that the soldiers had been deployed to keep the villagers out of the contested area, which he claimed was part of a social land concession granted to the military in 2008.
“Samdech Hun Sen gave that land to our unit to make into a military training grounds for training the soldiers to prevent Thai soldiers from invading,” Major General Heng said.
“They are grabbing land belonging to the soldiers,” he said, adding that the reservoir would also supply water to the families of about 100 soldiers who would be sent to live in the area “as soon as possible.”
Both Mr. Bai and Maj. Gen. Heng said they were unable to estimate the size of the land in dispute.