Seventy-five villagers in Sihanoukville’s Prey Nop district have complained to Defense Minister Tea Banh and sought his intervention in a land dispute in which they claim nearly 100 graves were bulldozed.
According to a copy of a fingerprinted letter delivered to the ministry on October 17, the Bit Traing commune residents are asking Tea Banh to order Sihanoukville’s deputy RCAF commander Ruos Tieth to return the three hectares of land where they say the graves were bulldozed last month.
Tea Banh could not be contacted for comment however Ruos Tieth said October 19 he was in no way involved in the destruction of graves.
Villagers in September claimed a bulldozer had been used to raze part of the graveyard in Kiri Sokha Ram pagoda.
The company bulldozing the land claimed to have bought it from Ruos Tieth.
The villagers are seeking $500 in compensation for each of the 96 graves flattened by the bulldozing since Sept 9, SRP commune chief Luck Kean said.
“It’s been a gravesite since I was a child. Villagers kept the land to bury their dead,” he added.
Ruos Tieth said he was not the owner of the land and had not bulldozed it. He also said the land had private owners whom he declined to name and claimed the graves occupied only 3,200 square meters.
“When the land was bulldozed, they said it was a gravesite,” he said. “It is just flat land…. I invite the NGOs to check.”
Villager Lay Muoy, 23, said that his aunt, uncle, grandmother and other relatives had long been buried at the site. Five hundred dollars would not buy enough land to rebury those whose graves had been disturbed, he said.
“It can’t be $500. Villagers are so angry,” he added.
Cheap Sotheary, local coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said there would be no evidence of graves on razed land.
“He bulldozed everything. There is nothing to check,” she said. “According to the elders, it was a gravesite since the beginning.”