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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Migrant families evicted from Angkor Wat complex

Migrant families evicted from Angkor Wat complex

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

of work.

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

future."

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."

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