Eleven families agreed to leave their land in Siem Reap city after authorities threatened to forcefully evict them from their riverside homes and even detained two homeowners, who were later released.
The families were protesting the authorities’ attempts to make them leave the land on Saturday, where villagers went face-to-face with 200 security forces and authorities, who were equipped with excavators. The police then arrested two landowners but released them after they, and the other nine families, agreed to leave the land.
The authorities claim that the riverside land in Siem Reap town is state land and that the families were illegally occupying the land. Most of the 400 families who were living on the land had already accepted 20-by-30 meter plots in the province’s Banteay Srei district. The protesting families wanted larger plots of land and monetary compensation.
Duong Mean, 41, was detained and released on Saturday after he was made to sign an agreement saying he would leave his land. He was disappointed that the authorities had forcibly evicted them without suitable compensation. His house was 23-by-40 meters.
“It is a violation of our rights because the authorities have threatened us. Even if we did not thumbprint the [agreement], they would have still knocked down the houses,” he said.
“I am not satisfied with this policy. There are no schools in that area and it will be difficult to run a business,” said Mean, adding that the relocation site had only a few electrical connections and no water.
Kuong Virak, 42, was the other villager who was arrested by the police on Saturday. She said the authorities had already demolished one of her homes, including a crocodile pond.
“We are not opposed to the government’s development but we need the authorities to settle [the issue] and find suitable compensation based on our size of land,” Virak said.
“Yes, this is a forcible eviction because we have not volunteered to move,” she said.
Deputy provincial governor Ly Samreth, said that villagers were informed of the relocation in October and that even though some villagers had lived at the site for a long time they could not stake claim to the land, big or small.
“There was no force to make them thumbprint [the document], but if they refused to leave we would have forced them to move,” he said.
Chan Chomroeun, a provincial coordinator at rights group Adhoc, said it was in everyone’s interests to see a peaceful resolution to land disputes rather than a forced eviction.
“We want to see a peaceful negotiation because the 11 households are big houses,” he said.