We will not stop because some of our land has been overtaken ... already.
Allegations come a day after police violently dispersed a protest over farmland
RESIDENTS of Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district said Sunday that military police visited their village over the weekend with the aim of arresting two men involved in a land row with the Heng Development Company.
Residents said the raid occurred one day after about 200 police violently disrupted a protest in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh villa; however, the chief of the military police in Kandal Stung district denied the allegation.
About 150 villagers from Kandal Stung and Takhmao districts gathered in the capital on Friday to protest plans by the Heng Development Company to develop an 878-hectare expanse of disputed rice fields that they say currently provide for 2,513 families. Villager representatives say the families have been farming the land since 1986, but district and provincial officials have said that the company purchased the land legally in 1996.
Police broke up the protest at around 12pm on Friday, arresting six villagers.
Than Vuthy, one of those arrested, said the group was held until about 6pm, when they all thumbprinted documents stating that they would cease protesting against the company.
“In fact, we just agreed to get free, but we will protest next time,” he said Sunday. “We will not stop because some of our land has been taken by the company already.”
The rights group Adhoc said four of the arrested villagers were men ranging in age from 26 to 47, and that the other two were women aged 32 and 60.
Ean Yan, a resident of Kandal Stung district’s Kandork commune who participated in Friday’s protest, said two armed military police officials on Saturday came to 94 village looking to arrest him and one other resident.
“The police have accused the two of us of persuading villagers to go and protest at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house, and now I am fleeing home to avoid arrest. I am worried about my safety,” he said.
But Chun Vanny, chief of the military police in Kandal Stung, said he had not received any instructions to carry out additional arrests.
“Our authority did not receive an arrest warrant from the court to arrest more villagers yet,” he said.
Ouch Leng, Adhoc’s land programme officer, said officials should refrain from ordering more arrests, and called on them to respect the villagers’ right to protest.
Friday’s police intervention, he added, “negatively affected their right to protest and showed that this is not a democratic country, it is a communist country”.
The arrests were not the first to be carried out in connection with the land dispute. In early April, after the Heng Development Company dispatched bulldozers to the disputed land, some 400 villagers blocked National Road 2 in protest. Police arrested 11 villagers, all of whom were released soon after.
Choie Sobin, the governor of Kandal Stung district, declined to comment on the case on Sunday beyond saying that he didn’t know of any fresh arrest warrants. Sieng Chanheng, director of Heng Development Company, could not be reached for comment.
Lim Leang Se, the deputy chief of Hun Sen’s cabinet, said the premier had already recognised the rights of the Heng Development Company to the land in question.