Dissident monk But Buntenh was arrested along with a fellow monk and three NGO workers who had attended a protest by ethnic Kouy villagers held yesterday against an alleged land grab by three plantation companies in Preah Vihear’s Tbeng Meanchey district.
Buntenh, president of the Independent Monks Network (IMN), was detained along with monk Nam Chanthen and Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) members Bo Pao, Em Sarom and Chhen Sambo, Sambo said yesterday.
Sambo said about 40 armed police and military officers detained them as they left the protest site, alleging they had trespassed on private property without permission.
“I do not know whether we will be released or not,” he said as police drove the group to the provincial police station yesterday evening.
Lor Chan, a coordinator of Adhoc in Preah Vihear, said that a crowd had gathered outside the district police station while the group was being questioned.
“Hundreds of people are protesting there to demand their release,” he said, adding that if the case was taken to court Adhoc would offer legal aid.
The Kouy protesters, representing 528 families in the district, say Chinese firms Lan Feng and Roy Feng and a local company, Ly Heng, began clearing their land of resin trees in 2012 and the dispute remains unresolved.
In 2011, Lan Feng was granted 9,015 hectares in the area for an economic land concession, and Roy Feng has the rights to 8,841 hectares, government records show.
Chann said that the companies had been clearing the land without measuring the boundaries of their concessions and studying the possible effects on local communities.
“Though the villagers have launched many protests and for many years already, there is no resolution and it has become a chronic land dispute,” he said.
However Pang Yiek, Treng Meanchey district governor, said the companies were operating within the law.
“The companies do not work on the villagers’ land, but on legal land granted from the government,” he said.