AFTER Sunday’s refusal by the besieged residents of Kraya commune to acknowledge relocation talks, Kampong Thom provincial authorities made a unilateral decision on Monday to issue villagers their last compensation offer on December 3.
“We’ve called the negotiations on Thursday because we want to find a peaceful resolution, but if they do not agree with us, we will begin to enforce the eviction order,” said Santuk district Governor Pich Sophea.
Village leader Pou Kin said that he and his neighbours would continue to reject the possibility of relocation. “When the authorities come here on Thursday, it looks like we are all going to have a real big problem because we refuse to leave,” he said. “Even though authorities say they want a peaceful resolution, I don’t think we will be able to avoid it coming to violence.”
Another villager, Neang Sinath, said officials had threatened to reduce their homes “to ashes” if they fail to reach an agreement on Thursday. “We are willing to die here and let the authorities find a ‘peaceful resolution’ for our spirits,” she said. “I know that we are disabled and cannot win, but we can try.”
Kraya commune was established as a social concession in 2004 to offer poor and disabled veterans a chance to support their families, according to Khun Sokea, chief of the Kraya Disabled Veterans’ Development Community. “Having farmland is better than going to beg in the city,” he said. “We’re trying to escape poverty. Living with disabilities is already hard, but the authorities are trying to make it harder still.”
The commune is now home to more than 1,000 families from across the country. Their claim to the land was recognised by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2007, but in that same year the land was sold to the Tin Bien rubber company. “We’ve had trouble here ever since,” Khun Sokea said.
In 2008, police began a campaign of harassment and intimidation aimed at pressuring the commune’s residents to relocate, villagers say.
Resentment erupted into violence on November 16, when 200 villagers burned four company excavators and other property before clashing with Military Police. Since the incident, the village has been blockaded by police hoping to catch the alleged ringleaders. Seven people have so far been arrested. A further 13 are still being sought.