POLICE in Svay Rieng province on Wednesday night tried and failed to arrest four men they have accused of being “ringleaders” in a protest related to a land dispute involving a rubber company, villagers and officials said.
On Sunday, Romeas Hek district police arrested Yea Yeoung immediately after the protest, accusing him of destroying police property and “briefly kidnapping” a representative of the Peam Chaing Rubber Company, which was granted a concession totalling nearly 4,000 hectares in the district in 2007. More than 400 families say the concession impinges on their land.
Yea Yeoung remains in police custody, and he has not been charged with any crime, Romeas Hek police Chief Chum Ry said Thursday.
Sam Dara, the police chief of Tras commune, where the disputed land is located, on Thursday confirmed reports from villagers that police officers had tried to arrest four more protesters on Wednesday night.
“We went to surround the villagers’ homes and arrest the village ringleaders, but they were not at home,” he said.
“I don’t want to arrest them, but my provincial police chief ordered me to, so I have to do it.”
Provincial police Chief Prach Rim declined to comment Thursday, saying he was busy in a meeting.
Sorm Sam Oun, a villager who participated in a protest against the arrest of Yea Yeoung on Monday, said Thursday that two trucks full of commune police arrived in his village on Wednesday, along with 10 others on motorbikes.
“Our villagers ran away quickly before our police arrived, because our neighbours told us that the police were coming,” he said.
Nget Nara, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said any arrests in the dispute would be unjustified, and urged authorities to “find a resolution for the villagers rather than threatening them with prison”.
Hem Sokun, the deputy governor of Romeas Hek district, said the families should relocate to 700 hectares of land that has been offered “as a social concession”.