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‘Gangsters’ target rights worker

‘Gangsters’ target rights worker

A land dispute in the capital’s Tuol Kork district escalated further on Friday when a group of “gangsters” allegedly threatened the life of a human rights worker taking video footage for a documentary on the conflict.

“Six men pushed me off the site. One screamed: ‘I will not allow you to be free,’ and another swung an axe near my head. They were carrying axes, hammers and knives, and said they worked for the landowner,” said Vann Sophat, a project coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).

Three families continue to refuse to vacate the small piece of land despite allegedly enduring a daily routine of threats and intimidation from a group of hired thugs. The families claim the men have been ordered to make their lives unliveable by tycoon Khun Sear, a politically connected businessman.

“Khun Sear is so powerful that he can get away with just about anything without lower authorities getting involved,” Nan Ony, a legal officer with the Housing Rights Task Force, said.

The tactics used against the three families have allegedly included assaults and a bag of cobras being thrown into one house. And while the families have been living on the land for more than 30 years, the Council of Ministers issued a letter in October 2010 effectively signing the land over to Sear.

According to CCHR, residents have repeatedly tried registering their land but to no avail.

Representatives of Sear’s company, registered as Khun Sea Import Export, could not be reached yesterday.

Despite living in what many would describe as untenable circumstances, 60-year-old Ly Srea Khenh says his family isn’t going anywhere.

“I won’t bow to this company or take their compensation money because all we want is to live on our land. The company is acting like a thief.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA

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