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Homes, trees destroyed, villagers say

Homes, trees destroyed, villagers say

About 50 police, soldiers and environmental officials yesterday demolished two houses and cut down thousands of trees belonging to families who are locked in a land dispute with MDS Import Export Co, owned by tycoon Try Pheap, villagers in Pursat province claimed.

Sok Da, 41, whose house and more than 1,000 rubber trees in Veal Veng district were allegedly destroyed at about 9:30am, said both she and her mother were slightly injured trying to defend their land.

“My mother is 80,” she said. “She tried to stop them from demolishing the house and cutting down the trees, but was pushed to the ground. My body is aching too because they beat me when I tried to block them.”

Those affected were wives of soldiers stationed along the Thai border who said they had lived on the land since commune chiefs awarded it to them in 2000.

Da, who also lost mango, cashew and coconut trees, said Try Pheap’s company had threatened to destroy eight other houses, claiming they lay within the firm’s economic land concession.

“They have guns . . . [families here] just have knives. Because we are far away, no one else knows they are using these wild laws. So we must too. It’s only to protect our houses,” she said.

Fellow villager Khouch Tithida said the authorities and company had been hiding evidence showing how long the families had lived on the land. She too threatened violence if further evictions occurred.

“If the officers working for the company continue demolishing the houses, we will chop them to death. We’re no longer thinking of anything else because of how badly they’ve treated us,” she said.

A representative of MDS, who declined to be named, said authorities were carrying out the law by not letting the villagers farm the land anymore, but denied the company had knocked down homes.

“My company has no rights to demolish their houses,” he said.

Phoung Sothear, provincial coordinator of human rights group Adhoc, described the treatment of the villagers as “a serious violation of their human rights”.

“The authorities did not find a solution for the people. Instead, they’ve just used violence against them,” he said.

In 2010, Pheap’s company was granted a 4,402-hectare concession to plant rubber trees in the area.

Veal Veng district governor Che Chei said yesterday he had not received word of the demolition, while Thma Da commune chief Prom Ngorn could not be reached.

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