Villagers drove more than 100 disabled veterans, widows and orphans off a patch of land in Battambang province and burned their homes Monday, according to human rights workers and provincial police.
The widows, orphans and disabled veterans were living in houses provided by a local NGO in Tomnob Trakuom village in Bavel district, according to the rights group Adhoc. Villagers said the group was living on land claimed by the village.
Police and rights workers say the villagers—including armed soldiers and local officials—ran the occupants off the property Monday and burned 60 homes. No injuries were reported.
“That’s even more disturbing and serious” that soldiers and local officials were involved, a rights worker said.
Bun Seng, commander of Military Region 5, denied that any of his soldiers participated.
The group of veterans, widows and orphans marched to Battambang town Wednesday and asked authorities to intervene on their behalf, Battambang Police Chief Heng Chantha said. Police are investigating the case.
Battambang Court Director Nil Non said 400 villagers filed a complaint two weeks ago against the group. He said both groups claim the right to the land.
Provinces in northwestern Cambodia have been rife with land disputes in recent months. There have also been increasing protests, with families from the provinces often camped out in front of the National Assembly, calling on the government to help them get their land back.
The high number of land disputes is largely blamed on the lack of an effective land law. Ownership is often vague and most people do not hold titles to their land, while land titles can easily be forged or bought from corrupt officials. A draft land law is ready to be reviewed by the Council of Ministers.
“[Land disputes] are very destabilizing for the country,” a rights worker said. “And they’re only going to get worse, not better. It’s all about making money.”