FIVE village chiefs from Kampong Speu province’s Phnom Srouch district have sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting the release of another village chief who was arrested earlier this month after police accused him of forging documents related to an ongoing land dispute with a Chinese businessman.
Police arrested Voeub Khim, the 54-year-old chief of Krang Tatan village in O commune, on January 4 on suspicion that he forged documents that stated families currently living on the disputed land were its rightful owners.
A total of 85 families are living on 60 hectares of land that is also being claimed by the Chinese developer Yu San.
Voeub Khim’s son, Cheang Vuon, said the letter sent to Hun Sen – which was delivered to a member of his Cabinet by village representatives last Saturday at the premier’s home in Takhmao – included requests for authorities to release his father and refrain from arresting the other five village chiefs.
He said attempts to negotiate with Yu San had not been fruitful. “The tycoon’s staff told us that if we want him released, we must thumbprint [a letter] and agree to give the 60 hectares of our rice farms to the tycoon,” he said.
“Now I am worried about my father’s health because he just had a gallbladder operation and I don’t know what’s happened to him in prison.”
Provincial Governor Kang Heang said Voeub Khim would need to face criminal penalties if he had in fact forged the documents in question, which were included in a complaint sent to provincial court.
“That land belongs to the tycoon Yu San because he has the land title,” he said. “The court just issued a summons asking [the villagers] to explain, but they are afraid.”
O commune chief Tang Kimcheng said Yu San purchased the land in 1999, but that it remained undeveloped.
“In 2006 he wanted to develop here and asked people to stop farming, but they wouldn’t listen,” Tang Kimcheng said.
Lim Leang Sen, deputy chief of Hun Sen’s Cabinet, said Wednesday that he had not yet received the letter from the village chiefs.