Police, military police and soldiers evicted hundreds of families from state-owned land in Kampot province Monday, injuring seven villagers, rights workers said Tuesday.
Try Chhoun, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that armed security forces led by soldiers from RCAF Brigade 31 began to evict half of the 300 families from a 20-hectare site in Chhuk district’s Taken commune.
Despite the security forces having emptied and burned scores of small wooden houses, villagers remained camped on the disputed land Tuesday, Try Chhoun said.
“The [authorities] used armed forces to evict people. It was violent and brutal,” Try Chhoun said. “There were hundreds of them, and they were armed in every hand,” she said of the authorities.
Try Chhoun added that the soldiers and police officers who conducted the forced eviction had told the villagers that they had taken land belonging to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and which was now reserved for disabled soldiers.
Villager Danh Ry, 52, who moved to the area 14 months ago, said by telephone Tuesday that the eviction was carried out by a force of about 100, including Bokor National Park rangers and Forestry Administration officials, though Brigade 31 troops made up the bulk of those conducting the eviction.
“When they came, they didn’t ask or notify us; they held wooden sticks and started to beat up villagers,” Danh Ry said. “They got off their trucks and just beat up villagers,” he said, adding that the forces were separated into groups: one to beat villagers, and the other to remove belongings from homes and then burn them.
“My house was removed, and they even poured away my rice,” Danh Ry said, adding that a total of 130 homes had been torched Monday.
Hang Rapo, a doctor with local rights group Licadho, said he took the three most seriously injured villagers to Kompong Speu Provincial Referral Hospital on Monday. He said by telephone Tuesday that two of the villagers, who had been hit with wooden sticks in the legs and ribs, are doing fine, but the third man, who had been struck in the head, was still unable to sit up on his own.
Bokor National Park Director Chey Uterith said Tuesday that 313 small homes were built on the land, which he said is part of the park, last year.
He accused the villagers of grabbing land as their profession, claiming that they intended to sell the state-owned land to others and then move on to a new site and repeat the process.
“They are from different provinces and grabbed the land. They didn’t care about our advice; they were systematic, like they do this as a career,” Chey Uterith said.
Brigade 31 commander Sun Saroeun declined to comment on the eviction, but Chey Uterith said villagers had attacked the authorities first.
“They had knives and axes and ran to attack authorities,” he said.
Kampot Provincial Police Chief Thlang Phirin, however, said Tuesday that there was no violence and no one was injured. He added that it was not an eviction.
“We just told them to leave,” he said, adding that the structures burned were not homes, but “huts to stay in while guarding the land.”
Thlang Phirin also said that the land does not belong to the national park, but rather to Hun Sen’s housing project.
Licadho issued a statement Tuesday calling for the immediate suspension of the ongoing eviction, pending a review of the status of the families who live there.
“The evicted families are not being offered any alternative land but simply being told to leave the area,” Licadho said. “The people whose houses were destroyed yesterday spent last night sleeping in the ashes of their burned homes,” the organization added.