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Troops close ranks over Siem Reap land

Military personnel from Land Force Unit 2 protest in front of their Siem Reap headquarters on Tuesday, calling for Defense Minister Tea Banh to protect the base from being divided. Photo supplied
Military personnel from Land Force Unit 2 protest in front of their Siem Reap headquarters on Tuesday, calling for Defense Minister Tea Banh to protect the base from being divided. Photo supplied

Troops close ranks over Siem Reap land

A group of 81 soldiers in Siem Reap province have appealed to Defense Minister Tea Banh to step in and block alleged attempts by their former commander, a retired three-star general, to carve up the land housing the unit’s base for his relatives and other military figures.

The troops from Land Force Unit 2, who staged a protest on Tuesday, have filed a complaint, accusing their former commander Dom Hak of grabbing land now occupied by the soldiers in Siem Reap town’s Kork Chork commune.

The soldiers said the 6,000 sq metre property in Veal village, which houses their headquarters known as Base 4, should be considered state property as it was awarded to them in 2006 by Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Seang Nam, who yesterday distanced himself from any dispute, saying he did not own the land.

Soldier Chheng Bunyuet said he was worried the unit would lose the land, where they also live.

“They are measuring and fencing the land, and I’m protesting to protect our collective property,” said Bunyuet.

Ean Borin, a soldier from Unit 2, said that Hak’s uncle, Taing Eang, was a powerful local figure and had claimed the land belonged to his family.

“We staged a protest so Taing Eang cannot say the land is his and accuse the soldiers of grabbing it,” Borin said.According to the soldiers’ letter, in early 2015, Dam Hak claimed ownership of the large plot.

He then shared the land with his uncle Taing Eang; his brother-in-law Chea Meng; Buth Rom, a Defense Ministry employee; and Brak Hoeun, a deputy chief of Unit 2.

Koy Sovat, the commander of Base 4, said his men would not move unless ordered to by their superiors. “If my superiors say go, I will go; if they say stay, I will stay,” Sovat said.

Speaking yesterday, Chea Muy, the wife of Taing Eang, said that in 2007 Dam Hak had offered to lease the family the land; however, they declined because they did not have enough money to build a house.

She said Hak then instead leased the land to Unit 2 soldiers but only until 2015. Last year, she said the family wanted to take up Hak’s offer, so they gave the unit’s commander, Tan Huyhout, $3,500 to pay for a building he had already constructed.

The family also began building a fence, she said.

However, upon attempting to move in, she said that base commander Sovat had objected, maintaining the land belonged to the unit.

On Tuesday, Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said he was unaware of the dispute but would investigate.

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