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Cablegate: Forced Eviction Attempt in Kampot Province Leads To

VZCZCXRO5398
RR RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHPF #0991/01 3480248
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 130248Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0202
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000991

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM CB
SUBJECT: FORCED EVICTION ATTEMPT IN KAMPOT PROVINCE LEADS TO
INJURIES

This Message is Sensitive but Unclassified.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. On November 17, Kampot provincial forestry
officials, police officers, and soldiers from the Royal Cambodian
Armed Forces (RCAF) Brigade 31 (B31) attempted to evict
approximately 300 families without lawful notice from Anlong Khmeng
Leng village in Kampot Province. Forestry officials accuse the
villagers of illegally occupying land in Bokor National Park.
During the incident, seven villagers sustained injuries, three of
them serious, and provincial forestry officials burned down the
villagers' houses. About 200 families currently remain in the area,
and the provincial government said that it does not plan to attempt
another eviction until it has determined which villagers need
resettlement assistance. This case highlights a larger set of land
issues in Cambodia, which Post plans to incorporate in a future
report. END SUMMARY.

EVICTION ATTEMPT
----------------

2. (SBU) On November 17, Kampot provincial forestry officials,
police officers, and soldiers from RCAF's B31 attempted to evict
approximately 300 families from Anlong Khmeng Leng village in Taken
Commune, Chhuk District, Kampot Province. [NOTE: Media and NGO
reports have called the village "Anlong Krom", but the residents
refer to the village as "Anlong Khmeng Leng". END NOTE.] Forestry
officials said that the villagers were illegally occupying land
within the borders of Bokor National Park. According to the Kampot
governor's office, the operation included:

-- One Kampot provincial government official;
-- Twelve officials from the Ministry of Environment;
-- Nine provincial forestry officers;
-- Four provincial police officers;
-- Five military police officers; and
-- 24 soldiers from Brigade 31.

3. (SBU) During the incident, three villagers sustained serious
injuries. A soldier reportedly beat one man with a stick and gun
butt, and the other two victims reported being hit repeatedly on
their backs and heads. Human Rights NGOs on the scene reportedly
attempted to evacuate the injured but alleged that soldiers
prevented them from leaving until later in the evening. The NGOs
later took the injured to a hospital in Kampong Speu, where two
still remain. Four additional villagers sustained minor injuries
and remained on the scene. The injured villagers include:

-- Un Chandara, male, 22: Head injuries, bruising;
-- Hun Rin, male, 52: Heavy bruising;
-- Prak Yong, male, 52: Head injuries, smashed teeth;
-- Chheun Chhun, male, 29: Minor injuries;
-- Chhim Phean, female, 40: Minor injuries;
-- Chhim Thoeun, female, 24: Minor injuries; and
-- Prak Thoeun, male, 40: Minor injuries.

4. (SBU) The eviction team also burned down the houses in the
village during the incident. Brigade 31 Deputy Commander COL Kong
Lum told Poloff that his unit was just on the scene to provide
security, and that forestry officials set fire to the houses. A
local forestry contact also said that forestry officials were
responsible for dismantling and burning the houses. Village
representatives were not sure which groups had set fire to the
houses, saying that the eviction forces all wore similar uniforms
and were difficult to tell apart.

5. (SBU) COL Kong Lum openly discussed the incident with Poloff and
acknowledged the injuries to the villagers. He said that during the
eviction the villagers were armed with axes, knives and other
weapons, and that the villagers were threatening some of the
soldiers. He showed photographs of villagers gathered in groups and
armed with axes, knives and machetes, as well as photos of similarly
armed villagers surrounding a single soldier standing in one of the
houses, which he said were taken during the eviction attempt. He
produced two machetes and a pellet gun that he said his soldiers
confiscated from evictees during the incident. The colonel said
that his unit eventually backed down during the eviction attempt to
prevent further escalation of violence. The villagers, who made no
mention of being armed, maintain that the soldiers attacked without
provocation.

EVENTS LEADING TO THE EVICTION
-----------------------------

6. (SBU) Anlong Khmeng Leng has grown significantly over the past
five years according to villagers and local NGOs. A community
representative said that about 50 families occupied land in the area
in the late 1990's, but that the village numbered about 300 families
at the time of the eviction attempt. Kampot Governor Khoy Khunhour
accused "masterminds" of luring settlers to the area with the

PHNOM PENH 00000991 002 OF 002


promise of free land that could be occupied and then sold for a
profit.

7. (SBU) A Kampot government official told Poloff that forestry
officials had informed the villagers on three or four occasions that
they were illegally occupying state land and would have to leave.
The villagers reported receiving two verbal eviction warnings from
the military and maintained that they did not receive a written
eviction notice at all. They said that they did not receive notice
of an eviction date and were taken by surprise when armed forces
came to remove them on November 17.

8. (SBU) Accusations of illegal logging have also contributed to the
tension in the area. The forestry office posted signs around the
area informing villagers that they were within the boundaries of
Bokor National Forest and could not log trees in the area. The
villagers maintain that they had only cleared trees on the land they
occupied [NOTE: within Bokor National Park boundaries. END NOTE.]
Poloff observed a truck loaded with timber that villagers said was
for a wedding ceremony.

CURRENT STATUS
-------------

9. (SBU) Because the eviction operation ended before it was
completed, about 200 families remain on the disputed land. Poloff
visited the scene and confirmed that most of the houses in the
village had been burned down, although some villagers had already
begun rebuilding. Community representatives told Poloff that
although there are checkpoints at both ends of the major access road
to the area, soldiers were allowing villagers to come and go freely.


10. (SBU) Although they have no legal claim to the land under the
2001 Cambodian Land Law, the villagers maintain that because they
are poor and without land, the provincial government should grant
them a social concession to stay in Anlong Khmeng Leng. Governor
Khoy Khunhour told Poloff that he is working with local NGOs to
determine which of the villagers are genuinely landless so that he
can develop a resettlement plan. He alleged, however, that over
half of the Anlong Khmeng Leng villagers are transplants from other
provinces that already own land elsewhere. They should look to
their own governors for assistance, he argued, rather than coming to
Kampot and demanding land from him.

11. (SBU) COL Kong Lum said that his unit is standing down for now
(except for the road checkpoints), unless he receives further orders
from his commander, which would presumably follow the governor's
resettlement plan for the villagers. He said that he has ordered
his soldiers to stay away from the Anlong Khmeng Leng, as the
villagers remain hostile to them when approached. He also said that
B31 plans to conduct a review of the incident to identify what
happened and lessons learned. DATT plans to follow-up on the review
with B31's Commander, RADM Sun Saroeun.

COMMENT
-------

12. (SBU) The exact details of the November 17 incident may never be
completely clear, but the Anlong Khmeng Leng case is indicative of a
larger set of common land issues in Cambodia. Post is developing a
cable to highlight these larger issues surrounding land ownership,
land policy, and the use of the military (versus relying on the
police) that complicate this case. We will also develop a strategy
for further engagement with the Cambodian government on land issues
in general.


RODLEY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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