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Armed Police, Demolition Crew Expel Phnom Penh Squatters

At least 200 police and hired workers armed with batons and sticks ousted a group of squatters from land in Phnom Penh, rights groups and witnesses said Friday.

"Everything has been bulldozed, even my rice pots and plates," one Dangkao district villager said. "They also burned our houses down, and when we ran to put the fire out, we were chased with gunfire. We're just like crabs."

Illegal residents are increasingly being driven from property as economic progress in Phnom Penh leads to development, but rights groups say the displaced are ignored afterward.

"They just came to bulldoze our homes, and we were not even allowed to take our belongings," another villager said. "They confiscated our belongings and loaded them into their two trucks. We all bought this land, but they charged us with taking it illegally."

Dangkao Governor Kruoch Phan said the "slums" were built on a sewage system.

"They came to grab the land and caused some sewage problems," he said. "We drove them out to restore the system. They keep coming from everywhere; we just cannot stop them."

Ni Chakriya, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc, appealed to authorities to stop "chasing people off their land."

He also said illegal residents should be compensated before they are expelled.