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Kraya villagers brace for fight; deadline nears

SIEM REAP PROVINCE
VILLAGERS at the heart of a bitter land dispute that has been festering since 2007 braced for a fresh clash with authorities today, as their eviction deadline was set to pass after several delays.

Representatives of Kraya commune in Kampong Thom were granted a 48-hour extension during a crunch meeting on Wednesday to give them time to relay details of their options to villagers who have been living in a virtual state of siege for weeks.

Speaking on Thursday, Khun Sokea, chief of the Kraya Disabled Veterans’ Development Community, said he and the remaining villagers would not be moved. “We cannot accept the solution offered at the provincial and district level because this problem has reached the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Council of Ministers office,” he said.

Tham Ol, 55, attended the four-hour negotiations in Siem Reap on Wednesday. Again, she was sent back to Kraya to offer alternative 20-by-40-metre plots of land. Again, the villagers refused. “We will strive to face the authorities using what we have to defend our land,” she said.

Santuk district Governor Pich Sophea was equally steadfast: “We offered them two days to respond, and we will find other ways if they do not respond in time,” he said. “Using force is unavoidable if they refuse again and again. Eviction is the last choice.”

The use of force would not be without precedent: On November 16, military police attacked villagers who torched vehicles belonging to the Vietnamese rubber firm awarded the disputed plot in a land concession in 2007.

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