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26 houses in the community of Boeung Chhouk were razed by a fire
Corrugated iron sheets litter the ground in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district yesterday after 26 houses in the community of Boeung Chhouk were razed by a fire on Saturday evening. Pha Lina

Fire ravages land dispute site

At least two people were injured over the weekend when a wildfire swept across a Phnom Penh community that has been entangled in a land dispute for more than a decade.

The fire ripped through the capital’s Boeung Chhouk village in Russey Keo district’s Kilometre 6 commune early on Saturday evening, Khiev Chenda, a representative of Boeung Chhouk villagers, said yesterday.

“The blaze [only] lasted for an hour, but it destroyed 26 houses,” Chenda said. “Two men were seriously injured and more than 50 families lost their homes.”

Chenda said villagers believe the fire started in a grocery store because of an electrical malfunction. Fire department officials are still investigating, said Prom Yorn, director of Phnom Penh’s Municipal Fire Fighter Unit.

Members of the Cambodian Red Cross and local authorities have provided affected villagers with food, money and medical supplies, community representative Mor Savet said yesterday.

Just over a month before the flame devoured homes in the village, Russey Keo Governor Khlaing Huot issued an order for villagers to move out of their homes to make way for seven planned roads. The November 14 order says authorities will take down houses of villagers who do not comply. It does not offer compensation.

Since the fire, villager Touch Chamnan and his family are now increasingly anxious about being evicted from their home, he said yesterday. His land certificate from 1990, family book and all forms confirming his identification and ownership of the land were destroyed.

“Now we are concerned about the eviction from our land, where we live, because we cannot prove [our ownership],” Chamnan said. “The authorities want us to move from our land without any compensation, so they can build the road.”

The dispute over land ownership dates back to 1998, when government officials began saying the commune land was private property.

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