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Chief accused of threatening villagers over land dispute

A commune chief in Preah Vihear province’s Kulen district threatened yesterday to arrest and detain 160 villagers in Srayong commune for blocking a rubber company from clearing forest land, villagers told the Post.

Village representative Meas Ren, 50, said the Siladamich company was attempting to clear land that belonged to the villagers.

“We asked the commune chief to intervene, but he did not help us. Instead, he threatened to arrest us and put us in prison if we continued to block the company,” she said.

However, Kulen district governor Chum Poy said yesterday the land belonged to the company, through a 2009 economic land concession.

He said the villagers had no right to the disputed land because they lacked the appropriate titles.

In the past, the commune chief had tried to protect the disputed forest land, but vill-agers continued to destroy it by cutting down trees, he said, resulting in the company’s decision to grant the ELC.

“Normally we always support the villagers in these disputes, but we can’t forget about the company,” he said, adding that villagers had threatened to burn down company property.

Meas Ren said that last Wednesday, representatives of Siladamich had asked villagers to resettle in order to make way for the forest clearing, but none of the villagers had agreed.  Despite this, she said, the company began clearing land on Monday.

“Even though we did not come to an agreement, they still came to clear the land, but that land is not free land,” she said.

Sem Long, one of the villagers involved in the dispute, said yesterday the commune chief had tried to force 124 families to agree to give up their land by threatening them with prison.

Sat Ty, the commune chief accused of threatening the vill-agers, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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