VILLAGERS involved in a land dispute with a Ministry of Interior official in Dangkor district say that they were forced to halt protests and thumbprint statements withdrawing their complaints on Tuesday in order to secure the release of a village representative detained a day earlier.
On Monday morning, eight villagers were detained as police attempted to block protesters from travelling to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence in Takhmao. The villagers say that In Samon, deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Interior, has unlawfully seized 18 hectares of their land in Prey Sar commune’s Proka Village, and that they were seeking Hun Sen’s intervention.
Duong Vy, who was among the villagers detained at the Dangkor district police station on Monday, said that seven of the eight – including herself – were freed after they thumbprinted documents promising to drop their complaints about the land. But she said one woman, Mao Soly, initially refused to sign and was told she would not be released until the rest of the villagers also promised to give their thumbprints to the police.
“The reason that the seven of us agreed to put our thumbprints is because they threatened that if we didn’t agree they would put us in Prey Sar prison,” she said.
“Now we are worried about Mao Soly, [who is] still detained because they accused her of being a leader who incited people to take part in illegal protests.”
She said that on Tuesday morning, villagers went to the police station to give their thumbprints in order to guarantee the release of Mao Soly.
“I decided to stop demanding our land back because they are powerful. If we still want to get our land back we will face detention in Prey Sar,” she added.
On Monday, local officials told the Post that the 18-hectare plot of land had been acquired by In Samon in the 1980s, and that he was recognised as the legitimate owner of the land by both district authorities and the local land-management office.
In Samon could not be reached for comment on Monday or Tuesday.
Prey Sar commune chief Khat Sokhai said that on Tuesday morning police summoned relatives of Mao Soly to the station to confirm that she had led the protests, and that the authorities would release her in the evening “after she confesses about her faults”.
“She has to confess that what she did – demanding to get the land back – was illegal, since the land has an owner already, and they have legal ownership,” he said. He warned that if she did not confess by the evening, police would “send her to the court and detain her in prison”.
Speaking by phone from the district police station, Mao Soly said police were accusing her of being the ringleader of the protests, a charge she denied, and that she had no choice but to give her thumbprint to police.
“I am not encouraging people to demand their land back – people agreed to make the demands together, because this land belongs to the village,” she said before being released on Tuesday evening.
“Now my villagers have come to put their thumbprints together to drop their demands for the land in exchange for releasing me.” She added: “I have agreed to accept everything, but the gods will see who is good and who is bad.”
Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for local rights group Licadho, said that the threats of the authorities were being used to dampen protests about the land dispute.
“The authorities always arrest people and threaten them to agree to stop their protesting, especially related to land disputes,” he said. “The reason people wanted to come to protest in front of the prime minister’s house is because the local authorities did not help them to find a solution.”