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Anger on the home front

Anger on the home front

More than 100 soldiers in Pursat province have threatened to resign en masse after being ordered to bulldoze their own lands, which are claimed by tycoon Try Pheap’s MDS Import Export Company.

The threat of mass resignations came two days after a soldier, Seng Pov, took off his uniform and surrendered his gun in a rare act of resistance from within the ranks of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

“Now more than 100 colleagues have already decided to quit their jobs if no solution is reached. But our boss has already written a letter to His Excellency Try Pheap to seek a resolution for us and he told us if there is no result, we can quit,” Pov said.

The community in Pursat’s Veal Veng district has been locked in a land dispute with Pheap for years. MDS regularly employs RCAF troops to provide protection and labour to its projects under state-sanctioned military-commercial alliances.

“They haven’t handed in their official resignations yet, but if there is no solution, we will take off our soldiers’ uniforms and hand them over,” Pov said.

The soldiers’ land had already been bulldozed by the company by yesterday evening, according to villagers, so it is not clear how a resolution to the dispute could be reached that would satisfy the former Khmer Rouge fighters and their families.

Kuy Srey Mao, the wife of one of the protesting soldiers and a ruling Cambodian People’s Party member, whose home was bulldozed earlier this week, said a local official had arrived at the village yesterday and accused her of being an illegal immigrant with no claim to the land.

“I have lived in this area since 1990, and I also have a land certificate, family book and CPP membership card. And they say I am an illegal immigrant! If I am, then so is the [Thmor Da] commune chief,” she said.

Sin Saros, the deputy commander of Intervention Brigade 14, which was tasked to clear the soldiers’ land, could not be reached yesterday.

Thmor Da commune borders Thailand’s Trat province and was created after the remnants of the Khmer Rouge in the area were integrated into RCAF in 1998. Pheap was granted a land concession in the area to build a new border crossing to Thailand.

The majority of the more than 500 families living in the area are former Khmer Rouge who were given land by the local authorities 15 years ago after they were stationed along the border.

Kheang Sochivoan, Pheap’s manager in Pursat province, said yesterday that the authorities would not sanction the eviction of people from their land without reason, which he said was proof that the people’s claims to the land were false.

“How can the authorities drive out people who are there legally? They seized the government’s land, which was granted to MDS for development, and they are always claiming they are mistreated,” he said. “We have to conduct a thorough investigation.”

Pheap’s MDS Company was granted a licence to build a 4,400-hectare economic land concession and special economic zone in Thmor Da.

The soldiers were taking a stand after years of neglect and broken promises, according to Phuong Sothea, the provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc. “They have lost confidence [in the authorities]. They worked very hard to defend the nation, but now they cannot even defend their own land,” he said.

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