The Preah Sihanouk provincial court has placed seven people in pre-trial detention and is questioning four other suspects for their alleged leading roles in grabbing state and private land by illegally planting boundary markers.
Provincial hall spokesperson Or Saroeun on Sunday told The Post that authorities arrested the suspects after hundreds of people sought to illegally demarcate land in what they dubbed an “anarchic” land grab.
“We have identified the suspects behind this anarchic land grabbing and sent them to provincial court for punishment in accordance with the law,” he said.
Saroeun said land-grabbing activities in the area had ceased after authorities explained the law to villagers who came to encroach on public and private land more than a week ago. He added that authorities are still working to identify more suspects.
Provincial governor Yun Min on Friday met with 13 civil society organisations based in the province to discuss ways to address the issue.
“The Preah Sihanouk provincial authority meets civil society organisations every six months to hold dialogues in a constructive manner for future development of the province,” he said.
During the meeting, the director of the NGO Cambodian National Research Organisation, Sok Sokhom, raised the issues of public and private land grabbing, illegal land clearing within the Ream National Park and the filling-in of beaches in Stung Hav district.
“There were people behind the land grabbing – people who incite villagers to grab public property for private ownership in Preah Sihanouk province. Some of them actually came from other provinces with the intention of grabbing land in the province, leading to this mess. We urged the provincial authority to take stricter measures to address the problem,” he said.
Sokhom claimed the people behind the most recent chaotic land grabbing were from a number of non-governmental organisations based in Phnom Penh. He declined to name any of them, saying only that they paid for the transportation of outsiders to Preah Sihanouk province at night time with the intention of grabbing land there.
Cheap Sotheary, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said she was concerned about land disputes in the province, which have persisted with no solution in sight.
“The meeting between the provincial authority and civil society organisations produced positive results. We were able to discuss obstacles and acceptable solutions in solving land disputes at the negotiation table,” she said.
Provincial governor Yun Min said he welcomed joint efforts to protect natural resources in the coastal province.
“We encouraged constructive comments to address the problems and to protect natural resources, especially mangrove forests,” he said.
The provincial court’s deputy prosecutor and spokesperson Hout Vichet on Sunday confirmed the detention of the suspects.
“[On Saturday] the provincial court detained seven people accused of asking people to provide thumbprints on various documents such as sales and purchase agreements. [On Sunday] the court questioned four more suspects."
“The [seven] were all involved in land grabbing. I sent them to the investigating judge . . . The prosecutor is questioning the other four suspects,” he said.
Vichet said the seven suspects are accused of being involved in fraud and the use of violence against land owners.
“The court is considering charging the other four suspects with using violence against land owners and encroaching on private property,” he said.