The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces have evicted nearly 1,000 families in 14 provinces in the past five years, ostensibly to build military bases, according to a report released by rights group Adhoc yesterday.
The report outlined Adhoc’s concerns over ongoing land disputes between local communities and the military since the Preah Vihear border dispute began in 2008, when the military mobilised troops in border areas.
Myriad bases were constructed in the following years, putting pressure on communities in Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey, Pailin, Pursat, Battambang and Koh Kong provinces to give up their land.
“People who lose their land cannot farm and receive death threats if they confront the military,” the report reads, adding that 938 families had lost more than 2,000 hectares.
In February 2010, Prime Minister Hun Sen instituted a new policy whereby businesses would provide donations to units of the armed forces in exchange for security being provided to protect their interests.
Critics of the scheme say it is an effective tool to further entwine political, commercial and military power and ensure allegiance to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for Adhoc, said people involved in land disputes with soldiers were afraid of losing their arable land despite a government initiative aimed at giving poor rural communities land titles.
“The land disputes involving the military, most of those cases have entered into deadlock and the local authorities do not dare settle [them], and it is very difficult to find a fair solution,” he said.
Such was the case in Siem Reap province’s Varin district earlier in the year, when 95 families were forced off land they had lived on since 2005 by soldiers, who warned them they would use deadly force if they protested, Adhoc’s Soveth added.
“The controversy over land disputes has become a chronic social disease, so the royal government should stop using armed forces to threaten people,” he said.
“Military bases should be stationed far away [from residential areas] and they should not seize people’s farmlands”.
Phoung Sorya, 57, a community representative from Tropaing Krasaing village in Varin district, said her community’s land had been given to a plantation company.
“They have not developed [the land] for the soldiers, but rather they have rented it to business people to cultivate cassava and threatened to shoot us when we tried to farm. Where is social justice?” he said.
Kheng Tito, spokesman for the military police, said that the land was state-owned, but the authorities had allowed the 95 families to farm it until it was needed for a base.
“Now, the authorities will try to find a resolution for them and will relocate them to live in a new place in safety. We cannot allow them to live in [a military] area and especially a conflict area,” he added.