Workers and armed guards cut trees and threatened residents at the Royal University of Fine Arts this weekend, despite unresolved negotiations over compensation for the university’s land, residents said Sunday.
About seven workers arrived at RUFA early Saturday morning and cut down three trees, and when community members intervened, the workers’ leader threatened to deploy armed guards, residents said.
The guards, armed with rifles, arrived Sunday morning and occupied a building still being used by university staff and students.
“Now they stop allowing us to get in that building for training anymore,” teacher and community leader Thann Sin Thou said Sunday.
An armed guard who declined to be named said Sunday that workers started cutting down trees on Saturday to make room for the heavy trucks that will be needed to bring construction equipment to the campus.
The guard said he and nine other men had been hired to protect the property of the Mong Reththy Group, which is slated to develop the land, but he would not confirm whether the developer was the one who hired them.
“I got the order from my boss to guard here to protect the [Mong Reththy Group]’s property,” he said.
In February, Mong Reththy confirmed he had made a deal with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to build a new arts campus in Russei Keo district in exchange for the university’s centrally-located land near the Old Stadium.
Residents said the Mong Reththy Group should not be allowed to start work at the university because they are still negotiating with the company for compensation for their homes.
They plan to file a complaint with the municipality, the district governor and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts today asking them to intervene and stop the destruction of campus property.
“The negotiations are still in progress,” Thann Sin Thou said. “We did not get any response from Mong Reththy about the demands we had before.”
To bolster their continued claim to the land, residents interviewed Sunday pointed to a letter dated Feb 9 from Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhonn that prohibits the company from disturbing the site until construction of the new campus is completed.
“[The] Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts will provide the old university compound to the company whenever the company completely finishes the construction [of the new site] and guarantees to solve the matter with officials, employees, teachers and the 53 families living inside the university to relocate,” the letter says.
Repeated calls to Mong Reththy were unsuccessful Sunday.
Residents are asking that the Mong Reththy Group set aside 25 percent of the university’s land so they can rebuild their homes at the same site.
Residents remained defiant Sunday, though they said they believed the armed guards had been sent to intimidate them.
“I feel not scared [of] them even though they carry the guns…because all of our community is working together against them,” said resident Meas Vanny, who has lived at RUFA since 1984.