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."