Twenty-three villagers were arrested on Monday in Kratie province’s Prek Prasap district by district and provincial officials for clearing destroyed forest land for plantations.
Villager Vi Reak said that the 23 villagers had arrived recently in Prek Prasap commune from Kampong Cham province.
“Villagers who clear the land for farming to feed themselves face arrest, but when powerful people clear over 100 hectares to sell to a private company, nobody takes action,” said Vi Reak.
Vi Reak said that the villagers had seen district officials, the provincial governor and an official from Phnom Penh clearing the land to sell it to businesses.
“It is unjust for the poor,” said Vi Reak. “Our villagers dared not help them because they are newcomers.”
Provincial Police Chief Choung Seang Hak said the villagers were arrested by the district governor and provincial environmental and forestry officials.
“This case did not involve us,” said Choung Seang Hak. “We just accompanied them to avoid violence.”
Prek Prasap District Police Chief Soum Sokhim, said that the villagers had been sent to provincial police headquarters.
“I don’t know why they were arrested,” said Soum Sokhim. “I just got unclear information that they cleared the forest to take the land.”
Prek Prasap First Deputy Commune Chief Ben Born said that the government had granted the land as a social concession for villagers in Prek Prasap.
“I don’t know whether those villagers are mine or coming from elsewhere,” said Ben Born, adding that he did not know what was behind the arrests.
Provincial prosecutor Mak Tany declined to comment, saying that he had not yet receive the case.
Provincial Forestry Administration officials could not be reached for comment.