A village representative was arrested yesterday as about 50 locals gathered outside Pailin provincial police station calling for the release of three detained villagers who had protested against a forced eviction on land they believe is owned by provincial governor Y Chhien and his wife Ban Srey Mom.
Tout Mak was arrested by authorities after a speech decrying the 15 days locals were given to vacate an area in early March that officials maintain is state land, despite the fact that the land was allegedly given to them by local authorities more than a decade ago as part of a Khmer Rouge integration plan. Pailin province was one of the last strongholds of a Khmer Rouge faction that laid down its arms in the late 1990s.
On March 2, provincial deputy governor Kert Sothea said that authorities had granted the land to villagers, but said later the land had to be taken back after provinces were instructed by the government to set aside parcels of state land for future development.
The first group of three detained protesters, representing 19 families in a land dispute in Pailin’s Sala Krao district, were arrested on Monday after District Deputy Governor Sam Sarat filed a complaint alleging they were ignoring a government directive to vacate the disputed area, provincial police chief Chea Chandin said.
Yat Lav, 27, Sothea’s niece, said authorities informed Sothea that they would be released if all three agreed to thumbprint a letter committing to vacate the land. They didn’t agree.
District Deputy Governor Sarat denied that Chhien and his wife owned the land. Chhien, a former bodyguard to Pol Pot, couldn’t be reached.