Villagers Flee as B’bang Land Dispute Continues

Sot Ky, a villager from Ampil Pram Doeum commune, which lies at the heart of 10,000 contested hectares in Battambang province’s Bavel district, packed up her cloth­es on Sunday and fled to the jung­le.

Days before, she said, 50 men ar­med with bows and arrows, machet­es and knives had descended on villagers, telling them to be out of their homes by Friday.

That deadline came and went.

On Saturday, two more homes on the contested land were burned down, according to villagers.

But on Sunday, violence did not come; instead, 10 new soldiers    ap­pear­ed.

“They said they came to defend us,” Sot Ky said by phone from Battambang on Monday.

What their appearance portends for the low-intensity violence in Bavel which rights workers and villagers say has pitted locals against the RCAF soldiers who claim the land as their own, is unclear.

“I’m still worried,” said Ing Kong Chit, of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. He said the new soldiers are from RCAF’s Battalion Two, the same unit he alleges has been responsible for the violent attempt to clear the land.

Heng Tay Heang, an investigator for local rights group Licadho, said he feared the conflict could come to a head in the next several months, when it comes time for the rice harvest.

“Bloodshed could take place,” he said.

In the last week, 57 villagers from the commune have trickled into Phnom Penh, braving knee-deep mud on the long day’s walk from their homes to come to the make­shift camp they have set up in the park across from the National Assembly.

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