After Prime Minister Hun Sen told the ringleaders who incited people to encroach on state land in Preah Sihanouk province to come forward, three men came forward to admit their guilt. The trio attempted to portray themselves as victims in a land dispute protest and posted it in a video that went viral on social media.

The men confessed that they had incited people to encroach on state land in Preah Sihanouk.

Back on August 17, the premier demanded that they hand themselves in to authorities while delivering an address to graduating students at the University of Puthisastra.

Phon Phen, one of the accused, admitted that on March 13 he and his friends Kem Han and Neang Veng led a group of people to illegally occupy forest land in the Southern Cardamom Mountain National Park near Cham Srey village in Kampong Seila commune and district.

“Yes, I intended to claim the state land as my own. If I did not own it but got away with occupying it, that would also have been acceptable to my plan,” said Phen.

He said that when he arrived at the site of the encroachment, police officers arrested 10 people, and he returned home in fear that he would be next. Later, he hatched a plan to try to gain public sympathy, and began contacting the media and asking the prime minister to intervene.

“It was wrong of me to lead the attempted occupation, but I became angry when I saw the authorities arresting people. I spread false information and called for the prime minister’s intervention because I believed the arrests were unfair. I did what I did because I have a low level of education and did not understand that what I was doing was illegal,” he said.

“I now know that I was wrong, but when we first arrived at the land, I did not know we were invading state land, and so I believed the officials were wrong to arrest us,” he added.

Phon Phen thanked Hun Sen and the Preah Sihanouk authorities for giving him and his accomplices a chance to come forward and confess. He called on members of the public to abandon any plans they might have to encroach on state land.

On August 21, another ringleader, Kem Han, a Sen Chey villager in Phnom Sruoch district of neighbouring Kampong Speu province, admitted that he and his friends thought they could get away with encroaching on state land.

“From today on, I swear I will no longer be involved in the encroachment of public land. I urge my Khmer brothers and sisters to obey the law, and do not follow my lead,” he said.

Another ringleader, Neang Voeung, a resident of the location where the attempted occupation took place, confessed that he had been involved with Kem Han and Phon Phen and their plan.

“We went to try to seize state land at the 15km area in Cham Srey village in Preah Sihanouk’s Kampong Seila commune. Before we went there, we held three meetings – two at Phon Phen’s house and the third on the day of the attempted occupation, March 13,” he said.

He added that after the authorities began making arrests, he fled to safety near the Thai border. He spent several months hiding out there before he heard that Hun Sen had called out the ringleaders.

“The ringleaders of this attempted encroachment should come forward as soon as possible and take responsibility for gathering people to encroach on state land,” said the Prime Minister.

He warned them that the authorities would begin searching for them if they did not present themselves immediately.