Seven village representatives from Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district were summoned to the Ministry of Interior yesterday to provide their version of events in a longstanding land dispute with an NGO.
Hun Dareth, one of seven representatives from Kantuot commune who attended the meeting, said officials from the ministry’s complaints department were collecting background information in the villagers’ dispute with the Drug and AIDS Research and Prevention Organisation.
Last month, village representatives filed a letter to the ministry, accusing DARPO of clearing farmland and using intimidation and violence against the residents.
“I told [the ministry officials] that DARPO has bulldozed our plantations, used guns to shoot in the village and burned people’s houses,” said Hun Dareth. I need the Ministry of Interior to find justice for these people”.
Since DARPO was granted a 556-hectare social land concession in 2007, tempers have flared between the organisation and local families. Prior complaints against DARPO have accused the organisation of seizing land in excess of the concession amount, as well as subjecting villagers to “threats, rape and torture”, among other abuses.
The director of DARPO is Pen Loem, a one-star general with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces who is also an adviser to Senate President Chea Sim.
Kao Mala, deputy director of the ministry’s complaints department, said yesterday’s meeting was aimed at collecting information to “report to senior officials”.
“Later, we will invite Pen Loem to the ministry, as well as other relevant commune authorities, to find the root of the problem,” he said.
Three villagers who accused the NGO of human rights violations last September were charged with incitement and disinformation, but eventually released from provincial prison on bail.
Pen Loem could not be reached for comment yesterday, but has previously described the allegations as “too exaggerated to believe”.