Sihanoukville police are interrogating five men accused of squatting on land near a rail line in Lek 1 commune, a local official said on Sunday.
Chhit Sophat, Lek 1 commune chief, told The Post that on Saturday a group of people gathered and allegedly built a house on land five to 10 metres from the railway line. They reasoned they were entitled to it as they were poor and the land was vacant, he said.
Police arrested five members of the group seen as the ringleaders – In Buntheoun, 42, Ngin Sokhun, 55, Uon Chhunleang, 57, Boeun Vanna, 67; and Chhun Saret, 53.
“At the moment they are under interrogation by Sihanoukville police,” Sophat said.
Sihanoukville police chief Pol Phosda told The Post it wasn’t the first time the five were accused of encroaching on state land. They had previously cleared forest land and more recently had joined land disputes in other parts of Preah Sihanouk.
“Under an excuse of being poor and living in a rental house, they illegally built a house along the railway, claiming the land was vacant,” Phosda said.
Sok Sokhom, head of the Cambodian National Research Organisation, who observed the arrests, said it was possible the group was being paid by a businessman to squat there.
“We do not know if they did it by themselves or with incitement from another party. But if there is no powerful or rich person backing them, they might not dare do it. In this case, it seems like there was an arrangement of some sort,” Sokhom said.
He said the authorities should investigate to avoid public perception they only punished the poor while the powerful people backing them went free.