Siem Reap province
More than 20 homes were burned down by provincial Forestry Administration officials during a raid on Prey Choam village in Siem Reap province last week, in an attempt to force villagers to relocate from land claimed by the government for reforestation.
Prey Choam resident Oeun Ourn said Monday that forestry officials started burning homes in the village last Wednesday.
“The provincial forestry administration went to raid the villagers’ houses,” he said, adding that the forestry officials had later set a new eviction deadline, which is due to expire today.
“They were targeting cottages that were not inhabited.”
About 300 families live in Prey Choam in Banteay Srei district’s Khun Ream commune, with 49 of the families headed by former Khmer Rouge soldiers who settled there during the mid-1990s after receiving permission from the district chief to build houses in the area.
“I came to this area in 1996 after I knew that this land was being used to settle former soldiers who wanted to make a living,” Oeun Ourn said.
He added that villagers were informed of the eviction on April 3 after provincial Forestry Administration posted letters on the walls of their homes.
“The letters informed us we had to move from the village by April 27 and I was very surprised because it happened with no explanation,” Oeun Ourn said.
During the raid, flames spread from empty homes to inhabited ones, local resident Horm Chom said.
“They burnt my son’s house because they could not see anyone living in the hut. My son is a frontline soldier at Preah Vihear Temple,” he said. “While he is stationed there to protect Cambodian territory, his house is burnt down.”
Another Prey Choam resident, Rim Rouy, said that his home was accidentally burnt down during the raid.
“The wind blew the fire over to my house, I did not have time to get anything out,” he said.
Chheng Kim Son, general director of the provincial Forestry Administration, said on Monday that villagers had been warned repeatedly about the eviction deadline prior to the raid.
“We just burnt some cottages which had no people living in them to show that we are serious about moving people out of the protected forest area,” he said, adding that the eviction order was issued after an influx of new families in the area led to an increase in illegal logging activities.
“There used to be only 42 families living illegally near the forest but this number has grown to 300.”
Chheng Kim Son said that forestry officials planned to evict residents from 300 hectares of land which has been reclaimed by the government. Officials intend it to be used to plant more than 10,000 ebony trees to reverse environmental damage caused by illegal logging.
Banteay Srei district chief Meun Vuthy could not be reached for comment on Monday, but told The Post last week that the decision to create a forestry plantation on the contested land would adversely affect villagers living in the area.
“They have to leave if the government wants to develop this area because they are living on government land, however no provisions have been made to help them relocate,” he said.