Two More Villagers Are Arrested Amid Evictions in Pursat

Two more people in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district were arrested Tuesday in connection with what local authorities are calling a secessionist plot, a forestry official said yesterday.

Veal Veng district forestry chief Thorn Bunthet said that Kuy Van, 55, and Leng Chhoeuk,

50, were arrested Tuesday in Kra­poeu Pi commune’s Kom­pong Kdey village for illegally living inside state forest and measuring plots of land for other villagers.

“We arrested them because they measured and grabbed state land for ownership,” Mr. Bunthet said yesterday.

“We will send them to the provincial court tomorrow to charge them.”

Authorities demolished more than 200 houses in Kompong Kdey village this week in re­sponse to the supposed secessionist threat.

However, villagers claim that they are being unfairly targeted after a dispute over whether they are allowed to live in a state forest.

About 200 families migrated to the area in 2008 from other parts of the country.

Mit Samoun, provincial monitor for rights group Licadho, who was observing the situation in Kom­pong Kdey yesterday, said that po­lice had blocked the road to the disputed area to prevent villagers from returning.

“There were police and soldiers putting barricades in place in order to stop the villagers from entering,” Ms. Samoun said, ad­ding that many of the evicted villagers had moved to the area over the past two or three years after being invited to move there by village leaders for a fee of $250.

“Now they have nothing,” she said.

“Authorities should not evict and demolish the homes like this even though they [the villagers] lived there illegally. Authorities should solve this problem with the villagers; they are our own people.”

District governor Chhe Chhiv confirmed that police were stationed at the village, but declined to say how many.

“We can’t let them stay,” he said of the evicted villagers.

“If they come back, they will face the law.”

Mr. Chhiv put the number of homes demolished at 239, al­though villager representative Chin Vorn estimated that 600 houses had been destroyed.

Mr. Vorn also claimed that au­thorities had burned down 100 of those homes, which the district governor denied.

Villagers are now living under makeshift shelters in the forest just a few kilometers from where their homes once stood, he said.

“We are not creating a secessionist area; we came to stay here because we didn’t have land to grow crops on [before] and hoped our lives would be better,” he added.

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