Police, military pol-ice and forestry off-icials evicted 100 families in Koh Kong province’s Smach Meanchey district yesterday, shooting into the air during the forcible removal to disperse villagers with the threat of violence.
The villagers, from Khem-arak Phumin town, said 50 police officials ran an operation that consisted of tearing down their shacks. When they protested, shots were fired, but nobody was injured.
“The police threatened them that if anyone dared to stop them, they would shoot that person,” village repres-entative Ok Neng said.
It was the second day of evictions in an area author-ities say is state-owned land.
But Sam Serey said she and 40 families had lived there for five years and possessed documents signed by local authorities that had been upheld in a temporary court injunction ruling in their favour.
Khemarak Phumin town governor Thou Vibol, however, said villagers involved in the court decision had not been affected by the move and that the “houses” represented the recently erected shacks of newcomers.
“The new immigrants who have been inspired from behind have come and made the situation worse in clearing the forestry lands. We are investigating this case,” Vibol said.
Local forestry official Om Makari claimed yesterday the villagers had sticks and knives, so police fired warning shots as a precautionary measure.
“They were just shooting upwards,” he said.
Makari said the newly arr-ived residents had been deceived into buying land from sellers who did not own it.
“We are searching for the people who inspired the villagers to buy and sell land, and we have already explained to the villagers to take their houses out of the forestry lands.”
Makari said that if villagers did not have land to build houses on, they could ask the local authorities to ask provincial authorities to find a social land concession for them, but squatting on state-owned property was not the solution.
En Kongchhit, an investigator for the human-rights group Licadho, said forestry officials wanted to plant acacia trees on the disputed 36-hectare plot.