Authorities and soldiers on Friday removed more than 80 houses and farm huts belonging to people that were living illegally on social land concessions of more than 2,000 hectares in Banteay Meanchey province’s Thma Puok, Svay Chek and Phnom Srok districts.
However, some residents claimed that they had cleared and occupied the land to plant crops for more than 10 years already.
Phlon Dara, provincial military commander, said yesterday that the land in dispute was at the boundary of three districts and was kept by the government in order to distribute to veterans.
However, some of the land was grabbed in January and sold to residents, he added.
To crackdown on land grabbing, authorities and forces went to remove 83 illegally constructed buildings on Friday, 62 of which were removed by forces and 21 were taken down by residents themselves.
“The government reserved that land for veterans throughout the province and from other provinces, but some people came to grab the land and sold it to some residents for about $320 per hectare,” he said. “We have already arrested and imprisoned three masterminds, and now we have measures to remove those illegal structures.”
Mr Dara said authorities were compiling a list of the people that had been living on the land, and urged those people to submit a request to commune and district authorities to consider allocating land for them.
Lan Lak, a resident of Svay Chek district who has had more than three hectares of his land cleared by authorities, said he has been planting cassava there since 2001.
The government announced that it was a social land concession for veterans in 2011, but only now at the beginning of March have soldiers come to clear and demarcate the land, according to Mr Lak.
“The soldiers do not allow us to plough the land to plant crops. They said we are living here illegally, but the people cleared the land for farming and planting crops many years ago already,” he said.
Yong Khun, another resident of Svay Chek district whose house was removed by soldiers, said he had just built a house and planted crops on the land about a year ago after seeing that the land was vacant and hearing a new village was being organised.
“We had nowhere to stay. We heard the land was a social land concession of the state and they were going to create a new village, so we built houses and planted cassava. But now, the armed forces have gone to remove more than 80 houses already, and we do not know what to do next,” he said.
Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that according to relevant documents and his previous observations, more than 2,000 hectares of land had been cleared by the people to live and farm before the soldiers went to clear their crops.
“The land is in fact a social land concession for veterans and disabled soldiers, but the majority of people there occupied the land for farming before it was given to the soldiers,” he said.
Mr Chankea urged authorities to resolve the issue by allocating some of the land to the people that had occupied it as they had nowhere else to live.