More than 200 villagers—brandishing knives, sticks and shovels—shouted at gun-toting soldiers while protesting evictions in Kampot province Saturday and Sunday, according to local rights group Adhoc and a villager.
The standoff never broke out into violence, but the Chhuk district villagers expressed anger that Forestry Administration officials have told more than 1,000 families they must leave to make way for a tree nursery, said Try Chhoun, an Adhoc provincial coordinator.
About 400 families are from Anlong Kroum zone, and another 766 are from Kbal Dumrie zone, both in Taken commune’s Chey Szena village, she said.
Authorities started evicting villagers, Try Chhoun said, by dismantling 35 houses June 8 and 9. An additional 102 houses were burned down June 16, she said.
“They used guns and words to threaten us to get out,” said Sman Housen, a 51-year-old disabled veteran who lives with his nine children in Chey Sena village. “We will lose our crop, which we have grown, and we will lack food to eat this year.”
“We got the area recognized at the commune level since 2006,” he continued. “Now, they evict us without an official letter.”
Villagers have been living in this area for more than a decade, Try Chhoun said.
Soom Vuthea, an administrator for the Social Land Concession Committee, denied those claims. “The civil society broadcasts defamation,” he said. “The land belongs to the state.”
“We will divide this area into two areas, one for residents and another for replanting,” to repair deforestation by the villagers, he added.
Forestry Administration Director Ty Sokhun could not be reached for comment Sunday.