Storm Adds to Displaced Squatters’ Misery

The makeshift shelters of more than 200 families in Siem Reap province, left homeless after police demolished their houses, have been destroyed by a recent storm, a representative of the families said.

Military and provincial police demolished the homes of 224 families in February after Samrith Chanratana, deputy chief of ad­ministration at the provincial planning department, complained the families were squatting, So Khoung, a representative of the families, said Wednesday.

Police also confiscated the wood used to build the houses and destroyed crops on the six contested hectares of land in Prasat Bakong district, she said.

Then, last week, a storm blew over the small huts the families built to live near their land, she said.

“Now they are facing the rain,” So Khoung said.

The villagers said they cleared the land in 1995, and have lived on it since.

If that is true, the land is legally theirs, said Luon An, director of Land Management, Urban Plan­ning, Construction and Land in Siem Reap province.

Samrith Chanratana, however, said Wednesday he was the victim in the dispute, claiming that the 6 hectares were his. He said he bought the land in 1996 for an undisclosed price and has a letter from the sellers.

“These families are squatters from other districts who came to take my land,” he said. “I am the victim and that is why I filed a complaint with the court.”

He said the court ordered the families off the land and that, before destroying the houses, he asked them twice to move.

So Khoung said Samrith Chan­ratana owned only 3 hectares of land adjacent to the contested 6 hectares and that he had already sold those to someone else.

The 6-hectare site was claimed by Samrith Chanratana because he knew that residents didn’t possess land titles, So Khoung said.

Suy San, Siem Reap deputy provincial governor, said he will meet with those involved in the dispute on June 30.

“We will find out who is wrong and who is right after the meeting,” he said Wednesday.


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