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Burnt-out village smoulders

091012_01
Villagers watch as their homes are burned to the ground during their eviction from disputed land in Oddar Meanchey province.

HUMAN rights advocates are demanding answers after armed policemen dismantled and burned dozens of villagers’ homes on disputed land in Oddar Meanchey province.

Residents from Bos village, in Oddar Meanchey’s Kaun Kriel commune, said nearly 100 houses were taken apart, then burned to the ground by provincial authorities on Friday.

They contend it was part of an effort to evict residents from disputed land that is also claimed by Angkor Sugar Company. Villagers believe the operation is owned by Ly Yongphat, a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Um Sam Ath, an investigator with human rights NGO Licadho, said authorities had no warrants when they razed the houses, nor did they give the villagers any prior warning of their “violent actions”.

“The authority must solve this case in a transparent way,” said Um Sam Ath.

“They should negotiate with the villagers until both sides reach an agreement. Licadho is watching closely and is trying to speak to the authority about this case.”

A representative of 214 families battling the company for rights to the land said Friday’s actions were carried out by 100 armed police officers and led by Vat Paranin, secretary general in Oddar Meanchey province.

Vat Paranin could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Villagers say they have lived on the land since 2003. In 2008, Angkor Sugar Company started to clear out farmland, kicking villagers out and accusing them of living on company-owned property, said representative Vong Veng. The land claimed by both Angkor Sugar and the villagers comes to roughly 1,500 hectares, he said.

Vong Veng accused the authorities of colluding with the company to force them to leave the land.

The families evicted last week have taken refuge 3 kilometres away at Kork Thlork pagoda, he said.

“They evicted us without paying us any compensation at all,” Vong Veng said. “We do not have anything to eat.”

Fourteen people among the villagers have gone into hiding, afraid that they will be arrested for allegedly inciting the villagers to stand up to the authorities, said another resident, An Srean.

Angkor Sugar Company could not be reached for comment Sunday.

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