KOMPONG CHAMLANG - A series of bitter land disputes is plaguing this Kandal
commune as farmers try to retake land their families lost under the Pol Pot
There have been more than 100 complaints about land-grabbing -
attracting ministerial attention - since the 1993 UNTAC
Arrests and detentions have become routine. One person has
The conflict has political overtones, with some of those
arrested alleging they are persecuted for being known FUNCINPEC party
Commune authorities, meanwhile, maintain they are just
clamping down on people taking land which is no longer their
The latest flare-ups at the commune, in remote countryside
40-50km northeast of Phnom Penh, have seen four arrests since late
Men Seb, 42, was arrested on Jan 30 after he planted rice on a
plot of land he said was owned by his family before the Khmer Rouge
"The soldiers tied my arms behind my back and took me away," he
said. "I was held for two nights in a locked room [at the Ksarch Kandal district
He was released, with the help of the Licadho human
rights group, after being "forced" to put his thumbprint on a statement pledging
he would not go on to the disputed land again.
Seb, a Funcinpec supporter
who had a "strong involvement in political matters" during the UNTAC elections,
said officials had mocked his political ties during his detention.
laughed and said 'If you want to be free, ask [Funcinpec leader] Samdech Krom
Preah Norodom Ranariddh to help you."
He said had been harassed and
taunted by armed men since the elections.
Another man had been shot and
seriously wounded by unknown gunmen more than a year ago following a land
dispute, and others were living in fear.
The latest arrests in the
commune prompted several villagers to write to human rights groups and the Post
to appeal for help to fight what they claim is systematic persecution of
"We are unhappy with the way we are treated by the
local village and commune authorities and their armed men who have conducted
evil acts against the people, including threats and the detention of people,"
the letter said.
The commune's chief, San Sareth, denied there was any
political motivation behind the arrests.
"The authority has to clamp down
on offenders, regardless of their political background."
He said the
disputes related to the distribution of land by the communist State of Cambodia
regime in the early 1980s, after the KR's 1975-79 rule.
land had been divided evenly, he said, but on the basis of quality, not size.
People had received small pieces of good land, such as that near a water supply
like a river, or bigger blocks of poorer quality land.
blew up in recent years, with people trying to retake their ancestral land.
There had been 113 complaints about this since the elections, he
Interior Minister You Hockry had visited the commune to tell the
authorities how to try to settle disputes. He ruled that land could not be taken
from its current owners, though people were free to swap pieces of
Seb said that, in the 1980s land distribution, he had received a
piece of hilly, "bad" land which could not be farmed for lack of
He alleged that some 50 hectares of prime land - including
his family's former plot - had been kept by local officials for themselves at
Since the elections, they had begun selling or giving away
pieces of that - to Cambodian People's Party (CPP) supporters, he
"They said that if I wanted land, I should go to
The commune's FUNCINPEC organizer during the elections, Iem
Roeung, said he knew of five families who were struggling to survive because
they had no good land to farm.
They had all been FUNCINPEC supporters
during the elections, many of whom were routinely threatened by soldiers or
police loyal to the commune's CPP officials.
"I have been threatened with
killing. Since the elections, I don't dare travel at night, or even go to quiet
places in the daytime.
"We just want the right to life. We hardly have
that now - they have the guns, they can do anything they want."