SOLDIERS who have been deployed to protect land owned by the Phnom Penh Sugar Company in Kampong Speu province’s Omlaing commune are slated to receive financial support from the company as part of a controversial programme to forge partnerships between the military and the private sector.
Villagers say that former Khmer Rouge troops from Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Battalion 313 have descended on disputed parts of the 9,000-hectare plantation, after angry villagers burned down a company office Thursday.
Suon Ly, a villager who took part in the protest that resulted in the razing of the company office, said Monday that soldiers from Battalion 313 – formerly Khmer Rouge Battalion 37 – arrived to guard the plantation following Thursday’s incident.
“Today we saw a lot of former Khmer Rouge soldiers from Oral district and provincial police who have come to protect the company after we burned down [the office] on Thursday the 18th,” he said.
Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a programme that has seen businesses and government agencies partnering with RCAF units to provide them with charitable support. According to a list signed by Hun Sen on February 22, Battalion 313 is linked with the plantation being developed by Phnom Penh Sugar, which is owned by Ly Yong Phat, a senator in the Cambodian People’s Party.
Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said Tuesday that he could not confirm whether Battalion 313 had been deployed to protect the land.
Also Tuesday, villagers accused police of making moves to prevent them from gathering outside Kampong Speu provincial court, where six village representatives are set to appear today for questioning over Thursday’s violence.
“Today the authorities invited all taxi drivers in Omlaing [commune] to a meeting and told them not to drive us to the provincial court tomorrow,” said Khem Vuthy, a representative, who added that the taxi drivers were told they would face harassment if they did not comply.
Authorities denied the accusations. “I don’t know anything about” the ban, said Em Sophal, deputy police chief of Thpong district. “I have no right to ban taxi drivers [from picking up customers].... It’s their own business,” he added.