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Villagers face arrest over land row

OFFICIALS in Banteay Meanchey province’s Thma Puok district have so far failed to hold a promised meeting with villagers over the alleged seizure of their land by the military, residents said Wednesday.

They added that local officials have threatened to have them arrested if they continue to contest the proposed construction of an army base on the disputed property.

Long Than, 58, a village representative who claims to have lived in Thma Dekkes village since 1993, when his family was relocated there from a refugee camp, said he has been told that the rice field now belongs to the military, and that members of RCAF’s Brigade 51 stopped him from cultivating the land on Wednesday.

“We cannot plough anymore on our land,” he said. “The village chief also threatened to put us in handcuffs if we protest.”

Residents of the district called off a protest that was scheduled for Monday after the district governor promised to meet with them to resolve the dispute stemming from plans for the military base, which Long Than said could displace as many as 100 families.

Long Than said on Wednesday, however, that no meeting with officials had taken place.

He also said that soldiers had brought an excavator, two trucks and a tractor to the disputed site on Wednesday.

So Chan Heng, chief of Brigade 51, said Wednesday that he was aware of the fact that the villagers had farmed at the site for a long time, but maintained that they were cultivating “state land”.

“We want to negotiate with them,” he said, though he declined to comment further.

Duong Sam Ol, the chief of Thma Dekkes village, on Wednesday denied that Long Than or any other residents had been threatened with arrest, though he declined to discuss the dispute in greater detail.

“I know they will build a military camp, but I do not care to know more because [the land] belongs to the military now,” he said.

“For the villagers, I have no idea how to solve the problem of this land issue for them.”

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