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Koh Kong villagers evicted by police and bulldozers

Koh Kong villagers evicted by police and bulldozers

Around 150 families living in Neangkok village in Koh Kong province have been forcibly

evicted from their homes and farmland.

Some of the villagers have remained behind to try and save their livelihoods, but

local authorities confirmed they would move them from the village -slated for development

as an export zone - by the end of June.

"We will give them another month as the final deadline to take the land back

for the state," Yuth Phouthang, the governor of Koh Kong province told the Post

by phone.

A sub-decree dated February 15 designated 336 hectares in Pakhlong commune, Mondol-seima

district, as a state-owned export zone. The document announced that all prior land

titles in the newly-proclaimed Neang-kok Industry Zone would be annulled.

Investigators with two local human rights NGOs said evictions had already begun.

They told the Post that 50 armed police, including one carrying a rocket launcher,

went to confiscate the requisite 336 hectares of land in the last week of April.

They were accompanied by bulldozers which demolished homes and groves of trees. A

fence is now being built around the site.

An ADHOC investigator said some villagers had lived on the land for 22 years. As

they were both poor and illiterate they had neither the money nor the know-how to

get legal title.

"The activities of the authorities constitute a serious abuse on these people,"

said By Sopheap. "Their behavior gave the impression they were prepared for

a fight."

ADHOC said it would study the issue further before deciding on possible legal action.

Licadho's investigator said the authorities were guarding the fenced-off area 24

hours a day and had bulldozed people's houses.

"The police and gendarm-eries have abused the villagers' rights and the Constitution.

Their mission was to scare the people," he said.

He accused the authorities of colluding to confiscate the land, and said villagers

had been offered meager compensation of only 1,000 riel per square meter.

Governor Phouthang said compensation would come from a $475,000 fund. He added that

a Taiwanese investment firm had wanted to build 40 factories in the zone, but had

decided to invest in Vietnam after delays in creating the site.

"Now we are waiting to see about Thai investment. They are looking to build

between 50-200 factories in the area which would create around 20,000 jobs for the

villagers," said Phouthang.

"Although it is difficult to move them out, we have to respect the government's

decision," he said. "This is a very complicated problem."

One villager, 41-year-old Thun Srei, told the Post that she had lost her 85 by 500

meter plot. She was unhappy with the authority's swap of only 20 by 50 meters and

the promise of financial compensation. She does not believe the money will ever arrive.

"I have owned this land for 19 years," she said. "In that time we

cleared the forest and the mines. Why did the government not tell us about it then?"

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