A soldier has resigned in despair after being ordered to take part in the bulldozing of his own land on Saturday in a remote part of Pursat province entangled in a land dispute with a company owned by business tycoon Try Pheap.
Seng Pov, who worked under Border Battalion 145 in Veal Veng district, said he quit when he realised what he was being asked to do, taking off his uniform and handing over his gun to his boss.
But 11 houses were still razed by a mixed force of soldiers, security guards and local authorities.
“I am indignant that although I defend these territories, I cannot even defend my own land, so I had to quit my job,” Pov said.
The former soldier received the land from his father, a ex-Khmer Rouge soldier who in turn received it in 2000 as part of a reintegration deal.
Prak Sophal, a farmer who said she also lost her home, said the authorities flattened people’s houses and threw livestock into vehicles to be impounded.
“They set up a barricade to block the road to keep the villagers from entering, and even when we asked to go back in to change our clothes they still did not let us and said we had to thumbprint a document,” she said.
According to Sophal, two mines left over from decades of war exploded as the houses were torn down, and one woman was arrested for protesting the destruction of her house.
Deputy Pursat Governor Keut Che said authorities only demolished a dozen “huts” because they were built on government land.
“If those people really have no land [anymore], they can register and ask for a land concession through their commune chief and district governor and the provincial governor will decide,” Che said.
In 2010, the government granted 4,402 hectares of economic land concessions in Veal Veng to MDS Import Export, a company owned by Try Pheap, to be developed for rubber plantations.
Kheang Sochivoan, an MDS representative in Pursat, could not be reached for comment yesterday.