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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights groups criticise RCAF's involvement in Kampot eviction

Rights groups criticise RCAF's involvement in Kampot eviction

Government claims that locals were squatting illegally on state land and needed to be moved, but rights monitors say violence not excused

LOCAL rights groups have condemned the destruction of 300 homes in Kampot's Anlong Krom village, saying the use of the military to clear disputed land was a deliberate act of intimidation that trampled on the rights of evicted residents.

Soldiers from RCAF Brigade 31 torched around 130 wooden shacks belonging to villagers on Monday morning and returned again Tuesday to burn down the remaining 170 homes, instructing all families to vacate the area by nightfall, Anlong Krom villagers said.

Thun Saray, executive director of the human rights monitor Adhoc, said Brigade 31 - commanded by General Sin Saroeun - was being used by powerful interests to clear the land quickly for an unknown purpose.

THE PEOPLE SPENT LAST NIGHT SLEEPING IN THE ASHES OF THEIR BURNT HOMES.

"It seems that this brigade is being used by powerful people to get the land from the people under them," he said.

In June, evictions destroyed 200 homes in Anlong Krom by Brigade 31 troops, who forced villagers in nearby Kbal Damrey village to share their land with evictees, villagers and rights groups said.

But the rights group Licadho said no replacement housing has so far been provided to the families evicted this week. "The evicted families are not being offered any alternative land but simply being told to leave the area," it said in a statement.

"The people ... spent last night sleeping in the ashes of their burned homes."

Anlong Krom resident Kim Phanna said that villagers were now sleeping in the fields with no roof over their heads. "During the day, we stay under the heat and at night we stay in the rain," he told the Post.

    
Disputed status

The ownership of the land at Anlong Krom is unclear. Adhoc's provincial coordinator Try Chhoun said that the surrounding area is being developed following a land deal organised by RCAF deputy commander-in-chief Kun Kim - who local villagers say supervised the relocation of villagers to Kbal Damrey in June.

But Sun Sothea, secretary general of Kampot province, said the residents were living illegally on state land and that the government had no responsibility to provide replacement housing.

"We do not have any obligation to help these people," he said. "They are squatting illegally on the land of Bokor National Park."

But Hallam Goad, an adviser at housing rights advocacy group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said the issue of legality did not excuse the timing and violence of the eviction.

"Most of the families [in Anlong Krom] are arrivals from other provinces, so they don't have a strong claim [to the land]," he said.

"At the same time, it's unacceptable treatment and intimidation, the violence towards these families. They've left them in a very precarious situation."

Brigade 31 commander Sun Saroeun could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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