Siem Reap authorities and migrants are negotiating for the release of two villagers who were arrested on Monday, after nearly 300 people yesterday protested the recent demolition of their shelters, which were illegally built at the foot of the province’s Phnom Kulen National Park.
The villagers, some of them wielding knives and bottles, blocked the entrance of the road leading to the protected area at Banteay Srey district’s Tbeng commune and demanded the release of the two detained men, named Tang La and Chhun Nath, according to Siem Reap’s Forest Administration Department chief Tea Kim Soth.
“They are not villagers. They are illegally living there,” Kim Soth said. “We were supposed to be arresting the ringleaders, but the two residents looked violent, as they held bottles and knives.”
From Sunday to Monday, police and forestry officials razed 200 huts illegally built by the villagers at the mountain, saying they are prohibited to take shelter in the conservation area.
The villagers, Kim Soth added, have also been logging the protected forest.
The Siem Reap Provincial Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of four “ringleaders” who allegedly persuaded the migrants to leave their respective provinces and log at Phnom Kulen. Police continue to search for the men.
“We are poor and we only need the shelter to live in,” said villager Chhit Sambo. “We did not want to block the road to the mountain but we need authorities to release the other villagers.”
Siem Reap officials have promised to set the two detained men free pending some agreed-upon conditions.
“The residents must stop grabbing the state’s forest and land along the foot of Kulen mountain and after this, the villagers will be free,” Banteay Srey District Governor So Sok said.
By yesterday night, however, Tbeng commune chief Doung Derm said that the men have yet to be released.
“The authorities told us that they will release them . . . but they are not yet free,” Derm said.