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Villagers evicted from national park

Pech Sotheary / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
One of the illegally constructed homes knocked down by local authorities. Supplied

Authorities are to force about 40 families in Koh Kong province to relocate from their homes in Botum Sakor National Park.

The villagers asked authorities to provide them with social land concessions, because they have no other place to live.

On January 5, authorities went to inspect the national park and found the families living there illegally in Andoung Toek commune. The land is earmarked for conservation only.

Choun Chanthoeun, 37, a local resident, said yesterday that over the past few days, authorities and an organisation related to the environment came and destroyed more than 20 people’s houses and crops.

They also warned residents that they must move quickly, otherwise heavy machinery will be used to destroy all houses, in addition to taking legal actions against the villagers.

“Now we are leaving our homes on our own, without knowing where we are going. If we do not leave, authorities will use machines to destroy our houses,” Ms Chanthoeun said.

“We are forced to accept it. They already said those who refuse to leave will be arrested.”

Sim Nan, another resident, said they have lived on this land for many years without problems with authorities, but recently officials came without warning and asked all villagers to move.

Mr Nan asked authorities to provide them with social land concessions before they are evicted, because residents are poor and do not have any other land.

“We know we live on state land, but we have lived here for many years, so we would like authorities to do something in exchange, like another land to live on. Otherwise, our people do not know where to go,” Mr Nan said.

Botum Sakor deputy district governor Soun Sitha and director of Botum Sakor National Park Eung Vuthny could not be reached for comment yesterday.

However, Mr Vuthny previously said those who had settled in the national park illegally must leave immediately.

“The families have not left yet, and authorities may be forced to take further action,” he said.

In Kongchit, Koh Kong provincial coordinator for human rights group Licadho, who went to observe the site, said authorities should consult with residents to find a solution rather than using force and machinery to destroy their homes.

“The land is fertile, there are more than 300 hectares, so provincial and district authorities should ask the Environment Ministry to file the land as economic land concessions to give people a means to produce food. These people need land to live on,” Mr Kongchit said.

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