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Soldiers stealing rice in Battambang province, villagers allege

Fresh accusations that soldiers have been stealing harvests in Battambang province surfaced yesterday when a coalition of local police, military police and villagers confronted four troops.

Yoen Srel, 53, said the dispute that had repeatedly flared up since it began shortly after the surrender of the Khmer Rouge in Banan district, reignited last week when military operations unit subdivision officer Doeu Saven returned to plunder once again.

“They were harvesting our rice secretly. We did not go without the authorities and police, because the soldiers are armed,” he said, adding that Saven and his men had erected huts on their land.

Srel said 18 families had cleared 60 hectares of land in Kantor commune’s Svay Prey after the Khmer Rouge surrendered in 1998, but Saven claimed it as his own in 2000.

The dispute should have been resolved after the court awarded his community 32 hectares the following year, Srel said, but in 2008 Saven returned again, claiming that ownership had been transferred to his command in order for them to recover debt and filed a complaint.

Contact details for Doeu Saven or his district unit could not be found yesterday.

Thoung Then, deputy police chief in Banan district, said the dispute had been quiet for two years until Saven and his men returned last week.

“We sent two military police and two other policemen there. We asked the soldiers to stop. We are waiting for a solution,” he said.

Yen Mengly, Battambang co-ordinator for the rights group Adhoc, explained that Saven had loaned his unit 10 million riel ($5,000) during a financial shortfall and had been granted land as recompense by a commander — land he claimed overlapped that of the villagers.

“The provincial authority, following the examination [in 2010], claimed the land doesn’t overlap the residents’ land. And Doeu Saven already sold the land he got from his unit. It is the fault of provincial authorities, who have been careless about ending this land dispute,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Phak Seangly at seangly.phak@phnompenhpost.com

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