Cambodian villagers evicted from their land last week amid scenes of violence and reported shooting deaths appealed on Thursday for government help in securing new farmland and building new homes.
More than a hundred gathered on Thursday at Py Thnou commune in Kratie province’s Snuol district to ask authorities to provide them with shelter and food following the destruction of their homes by police and plantation workers claiming their land, sources said.
“We are scared, frustrated, and desperate,” one villager told RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday.
“Over four hundred families now need land to build new homes, as well as land for farming,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We would like the authorities to help us as soon as possible,” he said.
Many of those driven from their land are now without the basic necessities of life, with some staying at other villagers’ homes or in Buddhist temples, he added.
Shooting deaths reported
On March 8, security forces in Kratie opened fire on more than 400 commune residents blocking National Road 76A to protest the destruction of their homes amid a long-running land dispute with the Memot Rubber Plantation.
The demolition came a day after Kratie provincial authorities met with the villagers in a bid to resolve the dispute with Memot, which had leased the land around the same time that residents settled in the area, but were unable to come to an agreement, she said.
Speaking to RFA, one villager reported that some of the protesting villagers had been shot dead and others injured, but later recanted after being taken into custody and threatened by police, who sources say have also warned villagers not to speak to the media.
Cambodian human rights groups have so far confirmed only that two villagers were seriously injured, with another less seriously hurt.
Authorities should not let the villagers removed from their land now suffer for lack of shelter, Soeng Sen Karona, a senior investigator for the rights group Adhoc, told RFA in an interview on Thursday.
“The government needs to send a working group to meet with the affected villagers and find out what they need,” he said. “They have to find ways to help them now.”
“Abandoning them like this makes it harder for them to survive,” he said.
The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.
Rural villagers and urban dwellers alike have been mired in conflicts that the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia has warned could threaten the country’s stability.
Cambodia’s land issues date from the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, which forced large-scale evacuations and relocations, followed by a period of mass confusion over land rights and the formation of squatter communities when the refugees returned in the 1990s after a decade of civil war.
In 2012, hundreds of armed police violently evicted residents of Kratie’s Pro Ma village involved in a long-running land dispute with Russian rubber company Casotim. During the clash, authorities fired on the villagers, killing a 14-year-old girl.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.