More than 200 families in Banteay Meanchey province plan to protest outside the Thma Puok district government office on Monday after scores of soldiers from RCAF’s infantry battalion 51 were sent Thursday to build a military base on their land, villagers said Friday.
About 60 villagers from Banteay Chhmar commune met with the soldiers on Friday in neighboring Komrou commune, where the families own farmland for planting crops, said Long Thorn, 58, a villager who claims to have lived in the area since 1993.
“To lose our farmland would mean we have nothing left to make a living,” he said. “RCAF soldiers should not build a military base on villagers’ rice paddies and farmland.”
Sieng Mao, 45, another villager, said the protest would last through next week in order to appeal to the district governor to renegotiate the location of the military base near the Thai border.
“If there is no help from the district we also plan to seek help from the provincial governor as well as top leaders in Phnom Penh,” he said, adding that villagers had already sought help from Thma Dekkeh village chief Duong Sam Ol on Friday to no avail.
Contacted by phone yesterday, Brigadier General So Chan Heng, commander of RCAF’s infantry battalion 51, said approval for the military base had been given because the location is “really important for the national defense strategy.”
“The base is for the future generation of soldiers to protect our country,” he said.
Brig Gen Chan Heng also accused the villagers of land grabbing, as the area in question falls inside a protected area.
Commune chief Vath Than said he would bring the villagers’ complaint to the notice of the provincial governor.
“To defend the country is really important,” he said, “but my people also need farmland to plant crops.”
“I have asked villagers to remain calm and let me seek help from the provincial authority first,” he added.