I DARE SAY THAT SOME KHMER CITIZENS ARE BAD CHARACTERS.
MORE Oddar Meanchey villagers whose homes were razed by armed officials in a long-simmering land dispute have fled to the capital, accusing authorities of threatening them with arrests, residents said Thursday.
Roughly 70 people have now fled to a pagoda in Phnom Penh following the forced eviction of 214 families from Oddar Meanchey’s Kounkriel commune in early October, said Huoy Chhuoy, a representative of the families.
“We are still fleeing … because the authorities are still threatening to evict us from our land,” Huoy Chhuoy said.
The dispute centres on some 1,500 hectares of land claimed by both the villagers and the Angkor Sugar Company, which is owned by Lee Yongphat, a ruling Cambodian People’s Party senator. In early October, armed authorities descended on the land, bulldozing property and burning some houses to the ground.
The evicted residents say they have been offered small plots of land as a concession – but only after being warned they would be arrested if they refused to accept the deal.
Claims of violence
Villager So Sokhom, 39, fled to Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum pagoda after being threatened with violence.
“They took my finger to put my thumbprint on the paper to agree to get the land. If I disagreed, they would arrest me and put me in handcuffs,” So Sokhom said. “They beat one lady right in front of me.”
For others, the land offer of a single hectare of rice paddy is too small compared with the 5 hectares they would vacate.
“I have a big family,” said Roeun Haov, 34. “How can I support my family with a rice field of just 1 hectare?”
Provincial officials, however, deny the villagers’ claims.
“We did not force people to agree to our land policy,” said Oddar Meanchey Secretary General Vat Paranin. “Who can take people’s fingers to get their thumbprints?”
He said 22 families, who were “really poor people”, had already received land. Others, he contended, were “fake families” with no legitimate claim to the disputed area.
Angkor Sugar Company director Lee Yongphat says the land is rightfully his.
“I was granted by the government an economic land concession of about 10,000 hectares to grow sugarcane,” he said.
“But because some villagers interrupted our plan, we are not operating yet. I am a Khmer citizen, but I dare say that some Khmer citizens are bad characters.”
Officials have arrested three villagers – who have been detained since early October – on incitement charges, and arrest warrants remain active for three others.