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Villagers clear land claimed by military in Banteay Srei

Siem Reap Province
MORE than 50 families in Siem Reap province’s Banteay Srei district cleared sections of a 150-hectare area of disputed land on Monday, despite efforts by Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers to prevent them from doing so, villagers said Monday.

Sor Sovann said Prime Minister Hun Sen had awarded the land to the families in 2006, but that there had been ongoing disputes with soldiers who claim it is state-owned.

He said villagers had waited for four years before trying to use the land because they had been afraid of confrontations with soldiers.

However, because the dispute had not been resolved, despite numerous complaints to provincial and other authorities, they finally decided to begin clearing the land on Sunday, he said.

“We have no choice this time. That’s why we decided to clear that land to build the houses on, because we don’t have houses or land to make rice,” he said.

Ouk Aun, the second deputy director of the Banteay Srei office of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, who is responsible for protecting forest areas there, maintained that the land had never been awarded to the families. Nevertheless, he ordered his soldiers to retreat from the confrontation on Monday in order to avoid violence.

“I just told my soldiers to be calm, but if the villagers come with machetes, and the soldiers go with guns, we cannot predict the result,” he said.

Heab Tha, the chief of Tbeng commune, where the land is located, also said it belonged to the state, and that the villagers were already living on the land that had been issued to them.

“The prime minister gave them land nearby the disputed land, and they are living on it. I don’t know why they went to clear the disputed land,” he said.

Bun Tharith, deputy governor of Siem Reap province, said Monday that officials hope to resolve the situation quickly.

“It is state land, and the soldiers asked permission from Forestry Administration officials to plant some trees on that land because it is located in the Phnom Kulen National Park,” he said.

Siem Reap provincial Adhoc monitor Suos Narin also sided with the soldiers, noting that they had planted trees in the area since 2002.

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