A series of land disputes have shook a pair of communities in Preah Vihear province, resulting in violent scuffles and tense standoffs between government actors and members of the Kuoy ethnic minority.
In Rovieng district, more than 140 families living in the Boeung Tonle Mrech community, which counts many Kuoy among its residents, filed complaints with the National Assembly, the Ministry of Justice and the Court of Appeal against Preah Vihear provincial deputy prosecutor Long Sitha for allegedly abusing his position to tear down two stations used by community forest patrollers.
They claimed Sitha, along with a coalition of village security, police and environmental officers, illegally dismantled the stations last week for supposedly being built on state lands.
“We have requested intervention and an inspection of Long Sitha, who has used his power to oppress and crack down on village residents almost everywhere,” community member Huon Kino said.
Furthermore, locals allege that Long Sitha’s forces violently suppressed village residents, who reacted strongly after officers seized a camera phone from Huon Kino’s brother, who was trying to document the destruction. Three people were slightly injured in the resulting scuffle.
Tempers were further inflamed after staff of logging tycoon Try Pheap reportedly built an outpost a mere 200 metres away from the dismantled structures.
Lor Chan, the Preah Vihear provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that the government must act to repair the situation.
“The provincial deputy prosecutor has used his authority illegally by ordering a crackdown on people and seizing a phone that was used to capture this crime,” he said.
Meanwhile, more than a hundred ethnic Kuoy villagers in Tbeng Meanchey district’s Brame commune yesterday also confronted Long Sitha for attempting to recover bulldozers seized last December in an attempt to protect ancestral lands. The machines are owned by Chinese concessionaires Rui Feng International and Lan Feng.
Village representative Nuon Morn said Sitha showed up with people from both companies to try and take back the machinery, resulting in “an argument, but there was no violence”.
Sitha said yesterday that the community was acting contrary to the law.
“I was just [performing my duties] based on the law,” he said. “The people had no right to confiscate the machines.”
However, Adhoc’s Chan, who visited the site yesterday, believes otherwise.
“Based on the law, the people actually have the right to arrest or confiscate all material as evidence,” he said. “I think the prosecutor seems to favour the companies.”