Villagers Block Road as State Evictions Begin

Some 50 villagers living on state land near Sihanoukville’s Kbal Chhay waterfall burned tires and blocked National Road 4 for three hours on Sunday, according to residents, in protest over state evictions that began last week.

“The houses where they didn’t see people inside—they quickly came to destroy them,” said Say Vanna, 39, a resident of the land since 2002, describing the evictions.

“Some went to the market and returned to see their houses destroyed,” he said of his neighbors.

A mixed force of about 100 officials—soldiers, military police, and provincial officials—used a bulldozer to force families to move, Mr. Vanna said.

“We are really hurt,” he said.

The evictions come after years of negotiations between the provincial government and thousands of families living on land near Kbal Chhay waterfall, the reservoir of which is the main source of water for Sihanoukville.

Late last month, the Preah Sihanouk provincial governor extended previous offers of land titles to include 1,000 more families, promising that 3,000 families in total would receive shares of the 682-hectare plot.

Some, however, were told that they would have to exchange their current land for other plots, which the state would choose for them. Suspicious of being shorted, some dug in their heels.

Deputy provincial governor Srun Sroan confirmed that authorities had started to move families last week off a 55-hectare area.

“We can’t let people continue to violate that land anymore,” he said.

Mr. Sroan said provincial officials had only removed 16 houses so far, calling them “volunteers” among the 100 or more families on the land. He added that those who agree to move would be provided with 5 by 20 meter plots about a kilometer away.

“We can only give them the same size as what they had,” he said. “Our land has limits.”

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