Several thousand families in Battambang province have been warned that they will be jailed if they do not leave a 10,000-hectare swathe of disputed land by the end of the month, villagers and a rights worker said.
Yin Mengly, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said Wednesday that an RCAF official read the ultimatum to representatives of the families in Bavel district Monday. He added that the directive was signed by district governor Tim Dareth.
“Military officers ordered all of us to leave this place within the month and return to our villages in other provinces. If we do not leave it, we will be arrested,” said Pring Sotheary, a villager who attended the meeting.
“We do not know what to do but we are all determined not to leave,” he said.
Rights workers say the families are embroiled in a simmering land dispute involving rogue RCAF soldiers who have detained villagers and torched homes in recent months.
Tim Dareth said there is no plan to evacuate the families and denied writing a letter threatening villagers with prison.
But he accused the villagers of calling more families to live in the district, and said that if they continue to do so, all of them will be evicted.
The case has reached the top levels of the Cambodian government.
In a letter dated Oct 5, Interior Minister Sar Kheng summoned Battambang Provincial Governor Prach Chan to Phnom Penh to discuss the case.
The villagers, Sar Kheng wrote in the letter, have asked the ministry to help them and have accused military, provincial and district officials of confiscating their land.
Prach Chan said he sent provincial deputy governor Sieng Suthang to the ministry Wednesday. Sieng Suthang said the ministry asked for the release on bail of three villagers arrested in August for allegedly grabbing land.
The ministry also asked the province to allow people to stay on the disputed land if they have nowhere else to live, he said. “We will discuss the ministry’s request,” Sieng Suthang said.
Prach Chan accused the villagers of grabbing land, though he said he was unaware of any warning that they will be arrested.
“They are planning to establish a place to live without the knowledge of local authorities. We cannot accept them because what they are doing is contradictory to the law,” he said.