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Residents set to protest after villagers' arrest

About 200 villagers from Banteay Meanchey province’s Malai district will protest in front of the provincial court today to request the release of two village representatives arrested on Thursday in connection with a land dispute, villagers said yesterday.

Ly Khley, 43, a villager and former Khmer Rouge soldier from Tuol Pongro commune’s Santipheap village, said that provincial police had arrested Yin Vang, 49, and Saing Ban, 53, as they ploughed a rice paddy on the disputed land.

“It is very unjust because they arrested our two representatives and told us not to protest, and they said that if anybody resisted, they would be shot,” Ly Khley said, adding that about 60 villagers had already protested in front of the provincial court on Saturday.

Provincial court judge Theam Chan Piseth confirmed that police had arrested the two men for clearing Ly Out Ny’s land.

Ly Khley said that after former Khmer Rouge soldiers joined with the government in 1996, a local military commander had given about five hectares of land each to 376 families, which villagers did not use until 2009 because they had been “working” elsewhere.

He claimed that after businessman Ly Out Ny declared ownership of the land in 2009, villagers filed a complaint to the Defence Ministry. In response, Defence Minister Tea Banh decreed that each family should receive one hectare and that Ly Out Ny should receive 28.

Ly Out Ny said yesterday that he had bought 459 hectares of land in the area in 1998 and had documents recognised by local authorities.

“After I cleared parts of the land [of mines], people came to take over my land,” he said, adding that the villagers had no land titles to support their claims.

Soum Chankea, Banteay Meanchey coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that Ly Out Ny had filed a complaint in 2009 in relation to the dispute to the provincial court, which awarded him the 459 hectares of land this year.

Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat and provincial police chief Kheng Soum could not be reached for comment.

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