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Demolition in Russey Keo

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Riot police provide security yesterday while homes are dismantled in Tuol Kork village, in Russei Keo district’s Tuol Sangke commune.

Roughly 200 armed military police and police from Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district descended upon Tuol Sangke commune’s Tuol Kork village yesterday to enforce a Supreme Court ruling in favor of a former Funcinpec minister, demolishing the homes of forty-two families, who said they had lived on the land for years.

“I don’t know where I will live, I have only this spot,” Kun Sunlok, a local villager, said yesterday. She said she had bought the land legally, and claimed she spent more than US$100,000 to build the home she has lived in for seven years. “It is equal to my life,” she said.

The action, carried out in coordination with Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Hing Bun Chea and Russey Keo district governor Khlaing Huot, enforced a 2007 verdict in favour of Khun Haing, a former Funcincpec Minister of Religions and Cults who is now a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Residents said they had built their homes with permission from commune authorities, and pointed out that construction had taken place over a significant period of time.

“The village chief and commune chief allowed people to build, then people built homes with two or three floors,” resident Nget Thyda said. “If it is the land dispute of Excellency Khun Haing, why didn’t he oppose [construction] when people started?”

Hing Bun Chea said he was merely enforcing a court ruling.

“I don’t know if he bought the land from anyone, I am enforcing the verdict to take the land to give to Khun Haing,” he said.

Khlaing Huot informed reporters that the enforcement was rectifying a land-grab by a “powerful man”, who had then sold the land to locals.

“This area is very complicated. On behalf of the authorities, I am happy with this enforcement,” Khlaing Huot said.

He said none of the villagers had land titles, and offered $1 million to anyone who produced a legitimate one.

Ouch Leng, a land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc who observed the demolition, said local authorities were at fault for allowing people to buy up disputed land.

“It is a mistake of the authorities,” he said. “The authorities did not prevent the construction.”

Residents say they bought the land from former Preah Vihear provincial governor Meas Savoeun, whose wife won ownership over 6,000 square metres Tuol Kork in a 2004 ruling by Un Bunna, a judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

In 2007, however, a ruling by the Supreme Court  reversed the verdict.

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