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Land-clearing confusion

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Villagers in Battambang province’s Sampov Loun district gather to prevent who they believe are officials from a private company planning to clear their land on Saturday.

More than 1,000 villagers from Battambang’s Sampov Loun district and Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district mistakenly detained three officials from the Ministry of Environment for five hours on Saturday.

Mom Phalla, an officer at the inspection department of the Ministry of Environment, said yesterday that he and a team were clearing a boundary for the 9,100-hectare Roneam Daun Sam wildlife sanctuary when they were unexpectedly detained by hundreds of local residents.

He added that one official had escaped the mob while he and two colleagues – Sen Vichet and Mom Yannoun – were detained from 10am to 3pm because the villagers thought they were clearing local farmland as part of an economic land concession.

“The villagers carried cleavers and axes to threaten us and they detained us at the place where we were clearing the land, depriving us of food and hitting me many times, but not so seriously,” he said. It wasn’t until local journalists arrived on the scene and cleared up the confusion that the officials were released, he added.

Mom Phalla said he did not plan to file a complaint against the villagers because the incident was purely a misunderstanding.

Heng La, a Malai district resident, said that on May 8, the Sampov Loun district governor had told local villagers that an economic land concession of 4,095 hectares had been granted to the Suon Mean Sambath company, from which villagers believed the environment officials had come.

Sampaov Loun Governor Chum Serb said yesterday that the wildlife sanctuary was state-owned, not private.

“We will educate [the villagers] to understand the land clearing for the wildlife sanctuary boundary,” he said.

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