Forty villagers on Tuesday were forcibly removed from outside the Pursat provincial office, where they have been camping for the past five days to protest what they say was the burning down of their homes by district officials, villagers and a rights group said.
“This morning, about 60 provincial and city police officers forced about 40 villagers from Veal Veng district away from the provincial office for allegedly disrupting public order,” said Eng Chhun Han, provincial coordinator for Licadho.
Pha Dong, 36, one of the 40 villagers demanding their land back, said, “We will gather more people and come back to protest in front of the provincial office if they do not find a solution for us.”
Last week, more than 60 wooden homes in Krapoeu Pi village were burned to the ground by Veal Veng district officials, who claim that the owners were living on state land, Licadho said.
“We want them to release a woman who they had arrested and give back our land and pay compensation for burning our homes,” Mr. Dong said, referring to the arrest of 47-year-old Sen Sien on Wednesday for illegal encroachment on protected forest land. She has been placed in pre-trial detention.
Villagers claim that hundreds of them had lived on the land from 2007 to 2012, but were evicted by officials. Some of the villagers, however, moved back onto the land, now claimed by the state, sometime last year.
“We suppressed the protest because we could see they were behaving in a disorderly manner, urinating in the street and on people’s houses,” said On Sokhom, provincial military police commander. “We didn’t arrest any of the protesters.”
(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)