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Protesters spar with police in Pursat

Protesters spar with police in Pursat

One woman was injured and another fell unconscious yesterday when villagers protesting against a casino development in Pursat province clashed with police and company officials, local residents said.

MDS, a local firm owned by tycoon Try Pheap, is in the process of developing the site, located near the Thai border in Pursat’s Veal Veng district. Villagers and company officials also locked horns last month when MDS officials attempted to clear land in the area.

It is not clear how many families the development will affect, though villagers claim 13 homes and rice fields belonging to 84 families will be engulfed by the project.

Yesterday, about 15 villagers attempted to block a company excavator from

continuing to clear land for the project. Police, military police and local officials subsequently intervened, dragging 22-year-old Seng Thea, who is eight months pregnant, out of the path of the excavator and injuring her in the process, villagers said.

“I stood in front of the excavator, but five police dragged me away and pushed me onto the ground,” said Seng Thea, who was recovering at a health centre in Veal Veng’s Thma Da oeung commune.

Meoung Pov, 45, fainted at the scene and was also taken to the health centre for treatment, fellow Thma Da resident Sam Mao said.

MDS officials could not be reached for comment.

Thma Da Commune Chief Prum Ngorn denied that local officials had used

violence in subduing the protesters, claiming that police had only been dispatched to protect company staff.

“The villagers have lived there a long time without land titles, but now the state needs to develop the land by renting it to the company, so all the villagers have to move out,” he said. Negotiations between the company and local residents had failed thus far because the residents had demanded the unreasonable sum of US$50,000 per hectare of land.

Pursat provincial governor Khouy Sokha said the government would attempt to find replacement plots of land for any villagers displaced by the project, though he acknowledged that contingency plans had not yet been formulated.

“It is a very difficult issue because that land is an economic land concession,” he said.

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