Kampong Thom Province
If they took villagers’ property against their will... that is not voluntary relocation. it’s using force.
POLICE began confiscating the belongings of villagers in Kampong Thom’s embattled Kraya commune on Tuesday after nearly 1,700 families continued to resist calls for immediate relocation, residents said.
As a small number of families began trickling into the proposed relocation site, rumours circulated that the growing armed force in the commune would begin a forced eviction at any time.
Community representative Pou Kin said that eight trucks carrying around 150 police entered the Kraya commune village on Monday night.
“In the morning they started putting peoples’ property in the trucks and told residents they could get everything back at the new location,” Pou Kin said.
“No one dared to resist because in the village there are only women. All the men have gone to hide on the cassava farms to avoid arrest because we have not agreed to move.”
Pou Kin also said that the police were telling villagers that they would be arrested today if they did not agree to move out.
Kraya villager Meas Sopear said she was among the women whose belongings were seized.
“They put all my packages in the back of a police truck. I couldn’t do anything because there were a lot of police with guns,” she said.
Though residents and rights workers called the presence of armed forces in the village a form of coercion, the provincial and local authorities said that soldiers and police were there to support those willing to relocate peacefully.
Chhun Chhorn, governor of Kampong Thom, said: “Today, all of the families who agreed to leave did so on their own. We helped them bring their property to the new location because many of them are disabled, and it would have been difficult for them to move it themselves.”
Pich Sophea, Santuk district governor, said the authorities were “busy helping people move to the new location, as well as providing food for them when they arrive”.
The resettlement area is in Thmor Samleang commune, 7 kilometres from Kraya. The first wave of villagers to reach the site was a group of 47 people, including children, who had been intercepted as they returned from an anti-eviction protest in Phnom Penh on Sunday and were prohibited from retrieving belongings from their homes.
At the site, they found themselves without shelter, clean water or any food other than sacks of rice, residents said. It was unclear if the influx of new evictees had been accompanied by an influx of new supplies.
According to the terms of the government’s relocation offer, each family will be given a 20-by-40 metre housing tract along with an additional hectare of farmland.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, disputed officials’ claim that Tuesday’s police action was in the residents’ best interest.
“If they took villagers’ property against their will and took it to the new area, that is not voluntary relocation,” he said. “It’s using force to evict people.”
He added: “We haven’t seen any violence or arrests yet because the authorities only dealt with villagers who volunteered to move. But when the volunteers run out, I am worried that things will get violent, because so many people still refuse to leave.”
An association of disabled veterans and their families began settling in Kraya commune in 2004 and received official recognition for their community in 2005. In 2007, however, their land was sold to a Vietnamese rubber company. The 1,750 families living in Kraya commune at that time refused to relocate, initiating a drawn-out dispute that erupted in occasional violence.
A November 16 riot saw villagers burning company equipment before clashing with armed soldiers and police. The village was subsequently blockaded, and plans to hasten the relocation of residents were set in motion. Roughly 50 families were forced to thumb-print compensation agreements at gunpoint on Monday, residents and rights group workers said.