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Land dispute flares in Kandal

TWO residents of Kandal province’s Kien Svay district have been arrested and briefly detained following a violent altercation with police related to a land dispute pitting a former deputy provincial governor against a sitting provincial councillor.

The altercation occurred Friday morning after about 50 police and provincial officials attempted to enforce a 2001 Appeal Court ruling that awarded 40 hectares of disputed land to Prak Savuth, a provincial councillor in Kratie province.

Rum Tekhamony, a former deputy governor of Kandal province, had also claimed the land, prompting the court case.

Chorn Phally, 49, said yesterday that she and her son were arrested after residents tried to block the authorities from approaching the disputed land in Samrong Thom commune’s Prek Treng village.

“They hit me and dragged me to the car,” she said, referring to police.

“My son was beaten with a gun until his ear was bleeding. They have guns and handcuffs, but we have no weapons.”

She added that police quickly released her after a group of villagers tried to block the police truck from travelling to the district police station. But her son, 25-year-old Pheng Seiha, was kept in the truck and taken to the station, where police held him until about 3:30pm, she said.

They released him, she said, only after he signed an agreement that he would not participate in any future protests concerning the land dispute.

Heng Theam, governor of Kien Svay district, confirmed that Pheng Seiha had been arrested and held for much of Friday, but denied that police had resorted to violence.

“We are just implementing the court’s verdict,” he said.

“We just detained him temporarily and released him when officials finished the task. The man used violence on our police force, so we must arrest him.”

He said that 44 families lived on the land, and that they would be permitted to stay there, though he noted that their plots would be reduced from about 4,000 to 750 square metres per family.

He added that 13 of the families had already agreed to take the 15-by-50-metre plots.

Ouch Leng, senior monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said authorities in Kandal province had attempted to enforce the verdict awarding the land to Prak Savuth on several occasions since 2001, but had been blocked by Prek Treng residents.

Friday’s incident was the first time an arrest was made in connection with the case, he said.

“The villagers are third parties, but they are becoming the victims of this dispute between two people,” he said.

“The verdict of the court is affecting their farmland and houses.”

Prak Savuth and Rum Tekhamony could not be reached for comment.

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