The homes of more than 100 families living on land in the conservation area of the
Angkor Wat complex have been torn down by the government body that manages the archaeological
park in a bid to reclaim state land.
Now the villagers are homeless, with authorities claiming they were swindled into
coming to the area by an unscrupulous employment agent who lured them with promises
The homes in Chong Kaosou village, Slakram commune, were dismantled beginning on
March 30 on orders from the Apsara Authority, because officials said the villagers
were illegally squatting on land inside the World Heritage site.
Kim Somaly, a villager whose house was torn down, said some of the families have
squatted on the land for ten years, while others are newcomers.
"The authority did not inform the villagers before dismantling their huts,"
Somaly said. "We asked them to postpone, but they didn't listen to us."
She said the homeless families are now living in tents along a nearby canal and have
asked the provincial authorities for intervention.
She said some of the homeless women had just given birth and were now suffering in
the heat without proper shelter or water while they waited for their husbands to
return from work at construction sites.
"We realized it's the state land, but we are poor," she said. "We
just wanted to live there temporarily and did not intend to take title of the land."
Sourn Narin, a monitor for local human rights NGO Adhoc and Kong Leap, an officer
for Cambodian Center for Human Rights at Siem Reap, were taken by the police for
questioning while observing the eviction. The rights workers were freed an hour later
after explaining their role to Apsara Authority officials.
Narin said the authorities had ordered the people to remove their homes a week before
dismantling their huts, but the villagers had asked the authority to postpone the
eviction until after the commune election on April 1.
Narin said there were about 300 families living in the area and the evictees were
mainly recent arrivals.
"Those people are poor and migrated from various provinces," Narin said.
"If the authorities refuse to help, who knows what will happen to them in the
Narin said four villagers were arrested during the eviction and were accused of disturbing
the work of the authorities and photographing them. They were released hours later
after authorities had reprimanded them.
Narin also said some of the remaining families squatting on the land were not poor.
"My observations found that not only the real poor but some rich people were
pretending to be the poor are also squatting on the land," he said.
An Apsara Authority official who declined to be named said there were only about
40 families living on the land and not 300. He said the NGOs and villagers were "exaggerating"
the number of families.
"Those people have built their huts on state land, which was prepared for building
a cultural tourism city," he told the Post on April 2.
He said the evictees were new arrivals and had built their huts secretly at night
just a week before commune election when authorities were busy.
"We do not have any policy to help them," he said. "They have recognized
themselves that the land belongs to the state."
He said the evictees had squatted on about five hectares of land and authorities
did not know where they had originally come from.
"We did not want to harass them before the [commune] election," he said.
"But if we do not dismantle their homes they will continue to squat on the land
and make trouble for us."
Nou Puthyk, a Licadho coordinator in Siem Reap, said he had not received a formal
complaint from the evictees, but was aware of the eviction.
Puthyk said the huts that were dismantled were built by new migrants from Kampong
Thom and Svay Rieng provinces who had come to work as construction workers, vegetable
sellers and junk collectors.
"Those people were squatting on the land illegally and the land is in the conservation
area of Apsara Authority," Puthyk said. "But those people are now homeless
and are living in tents."
Sou Phirin, the governor of Siem Reap, said the evictees had been encouraged to come
to the area by an employment agent who had promised them jobs. He said they did not
have family books, identity cards or any recognition letters from the local authorities.
"These people cannot come to squat on land illegally, in particular the land
controlled by Apsara Authority," he said. "We will investigate to find
out where they came from and the agent who persuaded them to come will be punished
by the law."