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Preah Vihear villagers cry foul

120116_05

Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Villagers from Svay Chrum village in Preah Vihear province hold photographs of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany during a protest on Friday near Wat Botum in Phnom Penh.

Villagers whose houses were dismantled in Preah Vihear’s Choam Ksan district last month told the Post yesterday that a claim they had voluntarily left their village was a lie.

In a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet dated January 13, the Preah Vihear provincial government claims the villagers had agreed to leave Svay Chrum village in Kantuot commune.

“No violence or threats were used on the people,” it says.

The letter, issued by provincial governor Om Mara, also says the villagers’ relocation from Svay Chrum to Theam Macheat village followed a royal decree dated August 10, 2011.

Amid protests in Phnom Penh on January 5 and again last Thursday, villagers submitted letters to the Prime Minister’s cabinet asking for the “right to live in Svay Chrum village forever”, rather than be sent to a nearby Theam Macheat village, which they say lacks infrastructure.

Cabinet members responded by sending a short letter to members of the Preah Vihear provincial government, asking them to examine the case.

Villager Soa Yat said he and his fellow residents were unhappy with the provincial government’s response because it “contrasted with the truth”.

“Things are not like what the letter says. No one wants to live in the forest,” he said.

Villagers would continue to protest and would send another letter of complaint to the Prime Minister, he added.

Villager Prak Sophak, a former soldier, said many villagers had refused to move to the new site and were staying with relatives in nearby Sre Em village.

“We did not want to move out and live at the new location where the authority took our dismantled homes,” he said.       

Lor Chann, coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the authority’s letter was an excuse and he called for villagers to be offered shelter at Svay Chrum until the issue was resolved.

“If the villagers have agreed to move out, why would they then go to Phnom Penh to protest and ask Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene?” he said.

Hun Sen’s cabinet and Preah Vihear provincial officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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