FIFTY families in Kampong Thom province who were forced from their homes in a violent eviction in December have returned to an area nearby, and others have vowed to follow suit, residents said Wednesday.
The families were among hundreds in Kraya commune that were evicted after their land was claimed by a Vietnamese company. They were sent to a relocation site 7 kilometres away, but they say they have struggled to make ends meet there.
“All of us living at the new relocation site did not receive any farmland,” said Pan Par, a veteran with a disabled leg. “The authorities promised us, but they have not given us any land.”
Pan Par said that by Wednesday roughly 50 families fleeing worsening conditions had returned to a forested area close to their former fields.
“It is difficult living [at the relocation site] from one day to the next. There is a shortage of food, we have no jobs, no homes, and we have health problems. Most of our villagers have malaria,” he said.
Another villager, Sam Buntheoun, said he was considering joining the 50 families who had left the relocation site.
“If the families who left can get farmland and have no problems with authorities, then I will go too,” he said.
“I don’t want to continue living the way we are now. We are farmers. We need farmland to support ourselves.”
But district and provincial officials said they were working to ensure that the displaced families received land.
“We are settling their land to construct housing first. Then we will start providing them with farmland,” said Uch Sam On, deputy governor of Kampong Thom province.
Pich Sophea, governor of Santuk district, where Kraya commune is located, said villagers would not be permitted to return to their old land.
“These people have no right to live in their old commune,” he said. “No villagers can go back to their old homes because we demolished everything already.”
But Peo Oumeth, a provincial monitor for the rights group Licadho, said villagers would starve without land on which to grow their crops.
“It is planting season,” he said. “If they stay at the relocation site, they will die because they have no land.”
Veterans and their families began settling in Kraya commune in 2004 after receiving permission from authorities. But in 2007, the government sold off an 8,000-hectare concession, including the villagers’ land, to Tin Bien, a Vietnamese rubber company.
The dispute simmered until December, when police and soldiers moved in and forced the families to leave. Rights workers and villagers reported being forced at gunpoint to agree to imposed compensation agreements.
Early on, rights groups estimated as many as 1,750 families were living in Kraya. Licadho now estimates the evictions affected 667 families.