Military police and security forces of the Ministry of
Environment's forestry department destroyed 83 thatch homes Monday in Chhouk
district, Kampot province, in what villagers and human rights groups say
violated their rights to live on the land.
The mixed security force of about 100 troops, equipped with
rifles, axes and hammers, dismantled the homes starting from 8 am Monday, villagers
and officials told VOA Khmer.
"We must dismantle all anarchic houses, because these
houses, constructed of thatch, have no one living there, and to protect against
the grabbing of state land," said Sim Vuthea, a local member of the Kampot
province social land concession commission, a government group.
The commission had permitted 181 families to stay on the
forest land, because they had built farms and cultivated fields, Sim Vuthea
said. However, the 83 thatch homes belonged to no one and were a part of the
assets of an additional 227 families the commission was not permitting to
remain on state land.
Villagers told VOA Khmer they were living there, but fled
when they heard the forces were coming.
"I am very disappointed with the government, and I felt
hopeless when I saw my home destroyed, but I have no right to retaliate for
what they did," said Chhim Chhin, a 58-year-old farmer.
"If the authorities had confiscated this land as state
property, it would be very good," Adhoc rights investigator Try Chuan
said. "But the authorities should have solved the villagers' demands,
because a small number of villagers could accept the authorities' request, but
the majority of them did not accept it."