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Ex-KR soldiers lock in land-dispute meeting

Seventy-four former Khmer Rouge soldiers fighting for land they claim the government granted them in the 1990s have agreed to meet with the military commanders who allegedly sold the parcels for personal profit.

The meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, follows a week after a pair representatives for the 74 families were arrested for illegally occupying the disputed territory.

The representatives, Ly Khley, 46, and Hoeun Vy, 56, were apprehended by Banteay Meanchey authorities in Malai district’s Tuol Pongro commune on April 22 and released two days later after they agreed to move.

“They thumb-printed an agreement to leave the area because of threats from the authorities . . . In fact, the other families do not agree and thus far they still occupy the land,” villager Chum Savuth, 52, said.

The former Khmer Rouge soldiers claim the government allocated the territory to disabled soldiers in 1996 and 1997, giving each of the 74 soldiers five hectares of land. But the men claim they never received their land, and that it was instead sold to businessmen by the military bosses.

In 2004, the soldiers’ families filed complaints to local and national authorities, but no resolution was reached, according to Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.

In March, the 74 families began erecting houses and farms on the plots, a move that local authorities labelled illegal land grabbing.

The soldiers hold four of their former superiors accountable: Mao Kiri, former deputy chief of staff of Regiment E67; Ruos Thoeun, deputy commander of E67; Ket Tieng, former commander of Battalion 671; and Chhun Krenh, commander of Battalion 671, according to Adhoc.

Kiri, now a commander of Battalion 511, said yesterday that he did “not steal anyone’s land” and was not a thief.

“The land belonged to 60 soldiers and they agreed to sell it [in 2002], and I was just a commander acting as a witness,” he said, adding that the initial 67 families claiming 140 hectares have now grown to more than 200 families each wanting a plot of their own.

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