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Wat Botum protest broken up

DAUN Penh district police on Monday removed a group of about 100 Kampong Cham province villagers from the park near Wat Botum, where they had been camped out in a bid to draw attention to a land dispute with Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers that has so far led to two arrests.

Chab Then, 35, said police came to his village in Memot district on Friday to inform residents that he and five others would be arrested for living illegally on a 225-hectare section of military-owned land, a move that prompted the protesters to travel to Phnom Penh. He added that the villagers hope to bring a complaint against the police and soldiers directly to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“If I had not come to ask the prime minister for help, I would be facing arrest and violence would happen,” he said. “I will not allow the authorities to arrest me. I have to fight them back.”

The families claim to have lived on the land – which currently holds cassava crops and rubber trees – since 1979, but an August 2007 provincial court decision handed it over to RCAF soldiers in Memot district.

Chres Yok, 53, who was among those gathered at Wat Botum, was arrested on May 12 along with 48-year-old Nang Phuon, who remains behind bars. Both have been called for questioning in connection with a complaint they filed against the RCAF soldiers.

“They use their power to take our land and threaten to arrest us,” Chres Yok said Monday.

Hun Sothy, the Daun Penh district police chief, said the villagers were sent home on Monday afternoon because their presence was creating a disturbance.

Military and court officials in Kampong Cham could not be reached for comment Monday.

Ros Sakhon, deputy governor of Memot district, said he can’t intervene to help the villagers because the land is registered in the name of Hem Khorn, who he said is an RCAF official.

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