A couple was arrested in Preah Vihear province’s Chheb district yesterday morning after the woman in the pair – a local land activist – protested against being moved from the area to make way for a local infrastructure project.
The husband and wife also have a one-year-old baby.
“They forced the villagers to move out and arrested them while the child was crying in the house,” said Rorn Ravoan, a local resident.
Military police, forestry police and other authorities were involved in the action yesterday morning, which targeted families of migrant workers living along National Road 9 in M’lou Prey 1 commune, because their makeshift domiciles were preventing the extension of a road.
Of all the residents, Lim Sokhim, 45, the woman arrested yesterday with her husband, was the most vociferously opposed to moving. “Though the wife is the one who protested and her husband knew nothing, the authorities arrested both of them,” Ravoan said.
Villagers claim they have lived on the land since 2009. Ravoan said the people asked to continue living there under the agreement that they would move when road construction starts. But the authorities were not willing to be patient, Ravoan said.
Sokhim and her husband Sorn Vuthy, 46, are to go before a judge today to face charges.
Yean Chhay, the local village chief, said some of the migrants have lived there for a month; others have lived there from a year to three years. Chhay described Sokhim as inflexible when dealing with offers to move.
“She is determined to live on the state land illegally. If she agrees to leave, the commune authorities have new land for her, but she did not listen,” he said.
Lor Chann, Preah Vihear provincial coordinator of rights group Adhoc, called the arrests a “cruel action and severe human rights violation”.
After the two were taken away, 40 villagers protested at the Preah Vihear provincial forestry administration, demanding their release. The baby was allowed to stay with the family.
Long Sitha, deputy provincial prosecutor, said that the provincial forestry administration is accusing the wife and husband of grabbing state land illegally.
“[The authorities] including the provincial governor, called her many times to solve the problem and negotiate, but [she] did not come,” he said.