Another alleged “secessionist” involved in a land dispute was arrested yesterday in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district, where villagers said authorities continued a prolonged forced eviction that has led to the destruction of some 500 homes.
Three other men accused of attempting to create an autonomous state in Krapouie commune’s Kampong Kdey village evaded a force of military and regular police officers who stormed the village and began dismantling homes.
Pursat provincial police chief Sarun Chanthy declined to name the arrested suspect who he alleged had taken money from and granted land titles to recently arrived migrants despite having no authority to do so.
“We implemented on the villagers resettling in the new location only, and villagers in the old village – we did nothing,” he said.
Khoy Sokha, Pursat provincial governor, said the villagers had illegally logged forest so they could cultivate farms in area, in defiance of public warnings made by Prime Minister Hun Sen in a series of recent speeches.
“We are seeking the arrest of the ringleaders. They don’t listen to the authorities and that means they are forming an autonomous area,” he said.
But two of the men who evaded arrest said all they were guilty of was helping villagers stand up to District Governor Che Chhiv, who had sold land to businessmen after promising it to them in 2008.
“The district governor committed an act of corruption against them. He hired workers to tear down villagers’ houses to force them to leave and [then] took the land to sell to buyers,” Chin Vorn said from hiding.
Vorn said Che Chhiv and the Krapouie commune chief agreed to a 2008 request filed to the prime minister in which 203 families asked to be granted 7,000 hectares of land.
The number of families had since increased to about 600, he added.
Che Chhiv hung up on a reporter when contacted yesterday.
Bul Sun, also wanted by police, said new migrant families had come of their own volition, and that by selling their land, the district governor had forced them into forested areas.
“We lived here legally, although there was no permission from the province yet. We did not go against authorities and there was no association backing us. We hope that the prime minister will help us,” he said.
In May, security forces stormed a village in Kratie province that had long been embroiled in a land dispute with a company, seeking to arrest suspects from a group called the Association of Democrats for allegedly hatching a secessionist plot.
Sun dismissed the suggestion he was in any way involved in undermining the state.
“If we made an autonomous area, we would not let them remove our houses easily. They had guns and we had empty hands. They said that we established an autonomous area; we did not absolutely understand,” Sun said.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at firstname.lastname@example.org