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Police move on Kraya villagers

Police move on Kraya villagers

091208_03
A villager (left) stands in front of his home in Kraya commune Saturday, just days before he was evicted by police. Emotional Kraya residents (right) protest the eviction in the capital on Sunday.

IN DATES The eviction of Kraya commune

2004
An association of disabled veterans receives permission from Kampong Thom provincial authorities to settle in Kraya commune. Veterans and their families begin arriving the following year.
2007
The government sells off the 8,000-hectare Kraya concession to Tin Bien, a Vietnamese rubber company, turning 1,750 families into trespassers in their own homes.

January 2008
A mixed force of police and soldiers surround and isolate Kraya for the first time. Movement in and out of the village is restricted for several months. After the blockade, police maintain a presence around the village.

October 2008
Six villagers are arrested. Three are detained for several days before the deputy provincial governor intervenes to gain their release.

November 16, 2009
Policemen beat up a young teenager from the village. When residents gather to demand an explanation, police fire at the ground to disperse the crowd. In response, villagers set fire to four of the rubber company’s vehicles and 11 police motorbikes.

November 19, 2009
Provincial authorities issue arrest warrants for 20 villagers accused of masterminding the violence. Four of the wanted men are arrested en route to Phnom Penh the following day.

December 7, 2009
A contingent of around 100 soldiers and police arrive in the village at dawn and force about 50 families to thumbprint relocation agreements at gunpoint. Most Kraya residents remain in the blockaded village.

MORE than 100 armed police and soldiers accosted villagers in Kraya commune on Monday morning and forced many to thumbprint compensation agreements at gunpoint, residents and rights group workers said.

The commune in Kampong Thom province has been embroiled in a land dispute with a Vietnamese rubber company. The incursion was the first of two by authorities into the village, which has been virtually under siege since a clash between residents and military police officers on November 16. At 5:30pm, police returned to arrest seven community leaders they said were behind the families’ refusal to accept compensation and relocate, though the wanted residents had been tipped off and fled before the officers arrived.

Village representative Pou Kin said he watched as dozens of soldiers and police went door to door and instructed the heads of 50 families to accept compensation in the form of a 20-by-40-metre plot of land and an additional hectare of farmland.

“They took peoples’ hands and forced them to put the thumbprints on their documents. It shows they have no respect for human rights. We have the right to decide what we want,” he said.

Kraya resident Muong Sinat said that although she was not among the residents forced to accept compensation, she was terrified that police, some of whom were camped out at the site Monday night, would soon target her family.

“If 100 policemen come and aim guns at my head and ask for my thumbprint, I will give it to them because I don’t know how else to react to 100 guns,” she added. “I feel like my eyes are flying out of my head because I’m so worried the authorities will come to force me.”

The village is part of an 8,000-hectare plot of land in Santuk district that was bought by the Vietnamese rubber company Tin Bien in 2007.

A blockade was set up at the village after the November 16 altercation, during which villagers burned four of the company’s vehicles – a move that prompted officers to turn on them with knives, hatchets and canes, according to rights groups present at the time.

Also Monday, the 47 villagers who returned from Sunday’s protest in Phnom Penh were shuttled to the relocation site in Thmor Samleang commune, located 7 kilometres from the village in Kraya, after being detained overnight in a nearby pagoda.

The villagers had been promised food and temporary shelter upon their arrival at the site, but Chhoung Ruon, provincial monitor for the rights group Licadho, said the villagers were left to fend for themselves.

“Nobody took care” of the villagers he said. “They are worried about their health tonight because they have absolutely nothing.”

Pich Sophea, Santuk district governor, said Monday that villagers who refused to accept compensation would be forcibly evicted, though he did not offer any new deadline.

Authorities said last week that the families would be forced to leave their homes on Wednesday, but then pushed the deadline back by 48 hours, and no eviction occurred.

“We will demolish their houses,” Pich Sophea said Monday.

“We did not demolish any yet because we are busy working with people who have agreed to move.”

Licadho consultant Mathieu Pellerin said that Monday’s police action, and the eviction deadlines that preceded them, were part of a pattern.
“Authorities use deadlines as an intimidation tool,” he said.

“They keep doing this until they drain communities of as many people as they can.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JACOB GOLD

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