VILLAGERS in Kandal province say they fear arrest after they staged a ceremony to curse the development company with which they are locked in a land dispute.
On the first day of the Pchum Ben holiday, about 400 villagers joined a ceremony at Tuol Tamark pagoda in Kandal Stung district to curse the Heng Development Company, which has threatened to level the pagoda and push 292 families off their land by October 28.
Community representatives said unidentified officials in black uniforms were patrolling the area.
“I am worried about my safety because police and military police have mistreated villagers here before,” said community representative Ly Siha, 30. “I am afraid they will arrest me.”
Various altercations related to the dispute have led to the wounding of three villagers, the arrest of one man and the issuing of arrest warrants for two others, according to local rights group Adhoc.
Earlier this month, military police arrested 45-year-old Vorn Vun on suspicion of destroying private property in connection with the dispute.
Kandal Stung district military police chief Chin Vanny said the villagers were mistaken about the security presence.
“My military police officers did not go on patrol in the village,” Chin Vanny said. “I don’t know why the villagers said that.”
Kandal provincial Police Chief Eav Chamreun said he was unfamiliar with the case.
Villagers say rulings from the Kandal provincial court in 2006 and 2007 have awarded the land in question to the 292 families, and that the Heng Development Company is flouting the court orders.
“We believe that during Pchum Ben, evil spirits are released from hell. We tried to use the court system to solve our problems, but the authorities do not care, so now we’re using magic spirits to help us,” said community representative Ieng Yan, 55.
“We cursed the person who is taking over the villagers’ land to melt into salt, but now we are worried about our safety because the police may arrest us,” he added.
Ouch Leng, land programme officer for Adhoc, said it was a reflection of the government’s poor handling of the case that the villagers had resorted to the cursing ceremony.
“The court dares not take action according to the law and is letting that company do whatever it wants to the villagers,” Ouch Leng said. “This company does not have the documents to do this according to the law.”
But Sieng Chanheng, director of Heng Development, said it could be the villagers who feel the wrath of the spirit world.
“They are living anarchically and illegally on my land, but they are cursing me, so that curse will return back to them,” she said.