Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities arrested two men on Monday after some 50 to 100 people protested against authorities demarcating a land boundary at the protected Kbal Chhay freshwater area.
Provincial authority spokesman Y Thearin identified the men as Chhay Roth, 45, from Village 1’s Group 7 in Commune 1 and Tep Sopha, 43, a member of the Cambodian Labour Confederation.
They were arrested for preventing the authorities from digging a land boundary to stop any encroachment into the protected area – Village 1’s Group 18.
“[Military Police] officers arrested them. The environment [authorities] own and manage the land. This is state land as designated in Sub-decree 116. They are not staying in the area. They just installed boundary markers near the water to show it is their land."
“When we made a designation map, there were no markers and houses. We went to dig according to the sub-decree to prevent people from encroaching on and affecting [the land], and to enable us to maintain the water. They prevented our machinery from digging and clearing the land,” Thearin said.
Roth, who said he used to be a Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activist, claimed that on Monday morning, provincial authorities sprayed paint to mark the land boundary in preparation for flattening some 20 homes.
He said villagers had sought the intervention of the National Assembly, which had given part of the Kbal Chhay land to them to grow crops.
“The deputy provincial governor and Military Police officers arrested us when [officials] were clearing and digging the Kbal Chhay area to demarcate it."
“When people went to ask, they arrested me by grabbing the collar of my shirt. They handcuffed me and accused me of masterminding the protest. Now they have detained me at the provincial police station,” Roth said.
He said over 100 families had petitioned provincial governor Yun Min for a solution to the land issue. They claim the 2016 sub-decree instructed authorities to give part of the land to them, but they had failed to do so.
The families’ representative, Lim Veasna, said the government should resolve the issue through negotiation rather than arresting people. The authorities’ actions, he said, threatened the right of other people embroiled in land disputes to protest.
“This is a threat to the people and the right to protest in land disputes. We would like to request the government to find a solution through negotiation rather than making arrests,” he said.
On Thursday, seven people were arrested by Prey Nop district police in Preah Sihanouk province over a land dispute near National Road 4 in Bit Traing commune’s Chamnot Ream village.