More than 100 people in Banteay Meanchey province’s Preah Netr Preah district are accusing RCAF soldiers of shooting at them and seizing their farmland, a villager representative said Monday.
“We are facing a serious problem with these soldiers, as they not only grabbed and moved our farmland, but they also repeatedly shoot at our children who bring our cattle to eat grass and drink water in the rice field,” said Nhean Kim Lor, a representative of villagers.
The dispute began Dec 12, two days after villagers harvested rice from a 55 hectare plot about 23 km away from Serei Saophoan town, when six armed soldiers from the tank unit of RCAF battalion 65 arrived and put up a tent on the land, Nhean Kim Lor said by telephone. She added that the land has been cultivated by villagers since 1994 and is being claimed by 107 families.
In 1993, the military left the land, and the villagers began cultivating it, she said, adding that they will file a complaint with local rights group Adhoc.
Reached by phone Monday, Preah Netr Preah commune chief Hong Huy said the issue is complicated by the land’s history, because it was used as a Vietnamese military base after the Khmer Rouge regime was toppled and later served as an RCAF base until 1993 or 1994.
“The land basically belongs to the Ministry of Defense, but I also want my people to have enough land for farming crops too,” he said, adding that he had not witnessed the soldiers firing their guns, but had received complaints from villagers.
Lanh Kao, RCAF tank unit commander, dismissed the allegations by telephone, saying villagers were trying to grab military land.
“The land of our RCAF soldiers is being grabbed by those villagers. We never tried to harm the villagers’ lives,” he said, adding that the land belongs to the Ministry of Defense’s tank unit and is designed to be the frontline of tank operations.
Provincial Adhoc coordinator Suom Chankea said his organization would intervene because the villagers legally have a right to the land.