THE rights group Adhoc has recorded a sharp increase in the number of Cambodians arrested and detained in connection with land disputes, as well as those implicated in complaints stemming from such disputes, according to figures released yesterday.
A total of 55 villagers have been detained in disputes between January and September 19, according to the figures. Ouch Leng, land programme officer for Adhoc, said yesterday that 37 villagers were detained in all of 2009.
Some 269 villagers were named in complaints spanning 14 provinces, up from 135 last year, Ouch Leng said. In addition to the 55 villagers who have been detained, 73 have been arrested and quickly released, according to the figures.
An accompanying report from Adhoc notes that some of these complaints and arrests have stemmed from this year’s most high-profile disputes, including an ongoing row in Kampong Speu province’s Thpong district over a land concession granted to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat.
Also cited is a dispute between families in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district and the Drugs and AIDS Research and Prevention Organisation, an NGO run by a one-star general who is also an adviser to Senate President Chea Sim. Last week, Preah Vihear provincial court charged and detained three villagers who have filed complaints accusing the NGO of human rights abuses.
Ouch Leng said the 2010 figures were evidence that the courts were working against ordinary Cambodians. “The courts feed the conflict. They do not find a fair resolution or justice for victims. Instead, they arrest and detain them,” he said.
But Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said those arrested had staged illegal protests or otherwise broken the law. “Police have never protected people who have done wrong or have violated the law,” he said.
Prum Sithra, a secretary of state at the Justice Ministry, declined to comment.