Touch Seouly, the head of an NGO involved in a years-long land dispute that has sparked violent and sometimes fatal clashes across several provinces in the south, was arrested on Friday after villagers in Kampot province lodged a new round of complaints with authorities.
Kampot provincial deputy police chief Chiev Samith told the Post that the complaint came from residents of Techo Anlong Kmeng Leng village.
Authorities also arrested and detained at the provincial police station three of Seouly’s associates: En Kheang, Buth Sophat and Puth Morn.
“The group has brutally encroached on the villagers’ land in the past,” he said, though he didn’t explain why arrests are just happening now.
President of the Cambodian Disabled Survivors Association – a group ostensibly dedicated to finding land for wounded veterans – Seouly has said provincial authorities allowed him in 2000 to develop about 1,500 hectares in Kampong Speu, Kampot and Preah Sihanouk provinces.
The CDSA has clashed with villagers who claim to have lived on the land since 2004, as well as with local Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers who assert a similar claim.
According to a 2011 report from human rights group Adhoc, Seouly prevented villagers from cultivating crops, putting the majority of land up for private sale while granting only a portion to disabled soldiers.
Confrontations ensued in which houses were burned and two villagers were killed, the report said. In May this year, two of CDSA’s members allegedly stabbed villagers in Techno Anlong Khmeng Leng, then ran away when police came.
Yi Sok San, who works on land issues for Adhoc, said the arrests show that authorities are working to settle land disputes. “We hope that villagers will receive their land to do farming,” he said.
Moul Saroeun, a village representative, said they’ve lodged complaints against Seouly and his group since 2004 but no authorities took action against them or arrested them.
“We all are happy with the arrest of the association president – we hope to get a fair resolution,” she said.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]