Troops assigned to a light infantry unit destroyed village fields in southern Cambodia’s Kampot province on Monday in a bid to expand the property used by a commune set up for retired army soldiers, sources said.
Crops and fruit trees were destroyed in the operation as about 30 soldiers armed with sticks and knives moved in with bulldozers against villages surrounding the Decho Akpewat commune, vowing to return on Wednesday to finish their work, one village chief told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“There will be serious tensions [on Wednesday],” Decho Anlong Khmeng Leng village chief Tim Hong told RFA.
“We can’t stop villagers from protesting, and other villagers are going to lose their land and face similar problems,” he said.
No injuries were reported in Monday’s action, and RFA’s requests for comment on Tuesday from infantry unit commander Kong Lam, who led the operation, were unsuccessful.
Cambodian soldiers have regularly encroached on villagers’ land since 2006, when a commune for disabled veterans was first established in the area, Tith Khieu—a villager whose fields were cleared on Monday—told RFA.
Villagers will now actively resist further action by the troops, he said.
“We will seize and burn the soldiers’ equipment if they continue to destroy our crops,” Tith Khieu said, adding that the villagers are determined now to protest even against armed troops.
“We have no choice,” he said. “We will protest even if we die.”
Forest areas also cleared
Members of a forest community in northwestern Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province have meanwhile reported moves by armed troops to confiscate land to build a camp following clashes with Thailand in 2008.
“Since the military moved in, it has been clearing more of the forest every day,” one source told RFA in an earlier report.
Villagers have asked a rights group in neighboring Oddar Meanchey province to file a complaint against the encroachment because local authorities have refused to take action to block it, the source 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.
Reported by Yang Chandara and Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.