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Infant hurt in Sihanoukville mass eviction

A 7-MONTH-OLD baby suffered minor injuries when provincial forestry officials demolished the homes of about 30 families near Kbal Chhay Waterfall in Preah Sihanouk province, villagers and rights activists said.

Bun Narith, a provincial coordinator for the rights group Licadho, said that Srey Neang, 20, was lying in a hammock breast-feeding her baby at her home in Sihanoukville’s Commune 1 last week when forestry officials came to demolish the structure. When the woman refused to move, an official cut the hammock’s support string, he said.

“Both of them fell to the ground. The mother felt okay, but the baby landed hard on its back,” Bun Narith said. “The mother and baby are OK now, but they will come to meet me [on Monday] to consult about filing a complaint.”

Villagers say that they purchased the land legally in 2002, but forestry officials say the land is part of a protected forest area around the Kbal Chhay Waterfall.

Bun Narith said that a total of about 60 families are facing eviction, and that 30 individuals had already stamped their thumbprints on the complaint.
“They want officials to clarify why there was no notice before the eviction and to tell villagers how they will be compensated,” he said.

Some families were living in makeshift shelters at the site of the eviction, he said.

Bin Thea, a 30-year-old villager, said the incident marked the third time that forestry officials had torn down the people’s homes.

Dy Sophy, deputy director of the provincial Forestry Administration, said on Friday that the houses had been cleared from forest areas protected under the law.

“Those people are living on that land without the government’s permission. The area is considered a waterfall resource to serve people from the whole province,” he said.

He said about 6,000 hectares around the Kbal Chhay Waterfall were listed as protected forest. “They can request a social land concession from the government, but the forestry office has no policy to give them compensation,” he said.

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