Families hide in pagodas and fields for fear of arrest by local authorities.
Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A woman stands by the ruins of a home in Kraya commune that was torched by an unknown assailant on Monday night (above), just hours after the owner had fled with his family into the cassava fields (left).
They showed us what they meant by turning up with
soldiers and police.
OFF a bumpy road through the forest, 90 kilometres from Kampong Thom town, the houses of Kraya commune are locked and empty. With the spectre of eviction looming, a quiet has fallen.
Villagers are preparing for the worst. Personal belongings have been hastily stuffed into sacks and hidden in nearby cassava farms, where they will be easy to retrieve in a hurry.
At night, a group of women stays up talking inside the local pagoda. They’ve fled their homes to seek sanctuary, afraid the authorities will burn their houses while they’re still inside.
“We are afraid they will burn our house down like we burned their excavators, so we are staying here together at the pagoda. We worry about our security all the time. We are very afraid when we hear any sound of a motor coming along the road at night,” said Neang Sinath, 42.
“The pagoda is a warm and safe-feeling place for us, despite the thought that this may be the last place we live in this village. At least we can cook together and eat together and compare the rumours authorities are circulating to threaten us.”
Some spend this time debating the way the eviction has been handled.
“We have been here nearly five years already, but still we only heard indirectly that we would be evicted,” said Suon Naren, 47.
“They never came to talk with us. They told us what they meant by showing up with soldiers and police.”
After last week’s confrontation, the community is spooked. Enraged by the threat of eviction, more than 200 villagers torched vehicles belonging to
the Vietnamese rubber firm that now owns the land on which their homes have stood for more than five years. The police fought back with knives, hatchets and canes.
Out in the cold
“Our husbands camp at the cassava farms every night to avoid arrest,” said Chan Thoun, 45.
“Now is the cool season, and our husbands dare not light fires in the field and don’t even have mats to sleep on. They are out there suffering.”
In the cassava fields, men are camped out in small groups.
One, Prom Saroth, said: “Even thought mosquitos bite us, we dare not slap back because we are afraid the sound will carry to the authorities. We are staying at the cassava farms because some houses were set on fire at night and we don’t know who did it, so we are afraid.”
Even one of the pagodas in the area has fallen under the shadow of eviction. “The authorities came to get me defrocked and accused me of being ordained as an illegal monk, but I have been ordained for 16 years,” said Kin Ly, 35, chief monk at the Banteay Ragneak pagoda.
“They said this pagoda must be demolished because it is built on company land. I will not allow them to demolish our pagoda because we are Khmer citizens. Where Khmer people live, there is a pagoda for people to respect.”
Whether that respect will be shown by either side when the eviction day finally arrives remains to be seen.
For now, all anyone can do is watch and wait.