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Evictees forced out of pagoda by city police

Oddar Meanchey families in Angkor Sugar row say they have no plans to leave Phnom Penh.

ABOUT 70 Oddar Meanchey villagers who fled to the capital after their homes were destroyed in a violent land eviction were forced to leave Wat Botum pagoda on Sunday, representatives and officials said.

Five Daun Penh district police officers visited the pagoda, which had housed the villagers for about one month, on Saturday evening and told the villagers they would need to leave.

“They told us that they wanted to manage this pagoda to create order and security,” said resident representative An Srean. “If we did not listen, they said, they would confiscate our property.”

The same five officers returned to the pagoda at 11am on Sunday and ordered the villagers out.

The villagers comprise some of the 214 families forcibly removed from their homes in Oddar Meanchey’s Kounkriel commune in early October as part of a long-running land dispute with the Angkor Sugar Company, which is owned by Lee Yongphat, a ruling Cambodian People’s Party senator. In that eviction, armed officials bulldozed some houses and burned others to the ground.

Am Sam Ath, a monitor for the rights group Licadho, said the villagers he had spoken with viewed their removal from the pagoda as yet another slap in the face from the government.

“First the authorities evicted them from their homes,” he said, “and now while they are in Phnom Penh they can’t even stay in a pagoda, so who can they rely on?”

No plans to go back
An Srean said the villagers would not return to Oddar Meanchey because they believed the local authorities would arrest them. Three villagers have been arrested and detained on incitement charges in connection with the case.

“We are now vagrants, but we will not go back,” he said.

Sok Penhvuth, deputy governor of Daun Penh district, said he was too busy preparing for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s return from Japan to comment on the case. District police chief Hun Sothy could not be reached for comment.

Preab Kha, police chief of Chaktomuk commune, where the pagoda is located, said the villagers’ removal had been carried out in compliance with orders from his superiors.

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