About 200 armed police marched into a suburban Phnom Penh neighborhood in the predawn of Friday morning, destroying 132 homes and ejecting "illegal" residents, officials said.
Authorities for the district, which lies just across the Tonle Sap River from Phnom Penh's Royal Palace, said he was implementing a land law in the name of development, but rights workers and opposition members condemned the eviction.
Phnom Penh officials have recently moved hundreds of families out of their homes across the capital in order to make room for private development. Many residents have been deposited in far-flung, make-shift villages far from water, work and schools.
Meanwhile, the prices of property in the city have skyrocketed.
At least one woman and several others were wounded in clashes with police, who carried AK-47 rifles and batons and joined about 150 demolition workers packing axes and hammers and driving bulldozers.
Around 4 am, the police and demolition crew entered the village, in Chroy Changvar commune, Russei Keo district, and ejected the residents, who claimed they'd been living in the area since 1980.
Villagers told reporters the armed forces beat and cuffed them, leaving several injured, while failing to compensate anyone.
"This forceful displacement was inhumane and even worse than evacuations from one place to another under the Pol Pot regime, because we still had place to live back then," one unidentified villager said. "This is the way Khmer treat Khmer."
Cambodians had been "blinded by money," she said. "The buldozers came and people stormed into my home while my children were still sleeping. I begged them not to remove all my stuff, but they didn't listen and instead demolished the whole house. They struck me outside, threatening that others would not get frightened if they did not handcuff me. Now I have nothing left. Please help me."
Russey Keo District Chief Kleang Huot denied confrontation led to injuries, saying the authorities were implementing the law.
"We announced three times this removal, and those constructions were really anarchic and damaged our environment," he said. "We consume this water everyday, so how can we bear with the fact that they use this river as their restroom?"
Reporters and local and international human rights officials were barred from entering the site and monitoring the destruction.
Opposition members and rights groups condemned the act, calling it a human rights violation and irresponsible.
The Human Rights Party issued a statement, expressing sympathy and condemning the violence. It urged the Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene and help the 132 families receive fair compensation.
"Even though the government wants to charge those residents with illegal or anarchic settlement, its obligation is to be responsible for the solution," HRP President Kem Sokha said.
Ho Wan, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker, described the act as brutal.
"It is a serious human rights violation, and it is also illegal because it damaged residents' property," Ho Wan said.
Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights group Licadho, said the authorities should stop such acts of displacement.
"The authority not only abused the rights of the residents, but also used violence against them," she said. "I think driving them out of their homes with no appropriate compensation is a serious wrongdoing and a rights abuse. They should stop it."
Kleang Huot said the authorities offered residents a plot of land or 1 million riel in compensation.