Authorities set a May 25 deadline yesterday for residents of Mondulkiri province’s Rayum commune in Koh Nhek district to leave their homes, prompting the deployment of additional provincial forces to the area.
Villager Seng Channy, 52, said that the coalition of about 300 police, soldiers and military police had already readied one bulldozer to tear down villagers’ houses.
“All the villagers must remove their houses before May 25,” he said. “If not, they [soldiers] will not be responsible for the damage to their property, and they said that the villagers have no right to live on the land.”
According to Seng Channy, most villagers have nowhere to go, and none have been compensated for their land.
“We will join together to protect our houses,” he said.
Koh Nhek district police chief Men Savann said that the authorities are ready to take action against villagers, and that as newcomers, the villagers have no right to the land.
“The land belongs to Pacific Pearl Joint Stock Company Limited, so they must leave the land,” he said.
According to the Royal Book issued last June, the land grant in question – more than 28,000 hectares – is in violation of the 10,000-hectare limit on economic land concessions.
Deputy provincial governor Svay Sam Eang, however, claimed that the concession was split between Pacific Pearl Joint Stock Company Limited, Pacific Grand Joint Stock Company Limited and Pacific Lotus Joint Stock Company Limited.
Svay Sam Eang said that authorities are now negotiating peacefully with villagers to go back to their home provinces.
The villagers, he says, first came to Mondulkiri to sell materials to company workers after the company was granted the land.
“According to the law, they came to settle there after the company, so we have no policy to give compensation to them, but if any villagers volunteer to leave by themselves, we will offer them a little,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for human rights group Licadho, said that authorities should take a lesson from the incident in Kratie province, and refrain from labelling the villagers secessionists.
“We suggest the authorities take peaceful action to avoid violence,” he said.
To contac the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]