VILLAGERS from 96 households in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district staged a non-violent protest to block a private company from destroying a protected sacred hill on Thursday, a representative of the group said yesterday.
Heng Try, A representative of Thmey village said employees belonging to an unknown businessman were repelled by the villagers when they attempted to clear Tuol Ang Yeay Pov hill using land clearing machinery and trucks.
“They want to destroy it to dig up artifacts [which] the villagers don’t want, the villagers want to keep it and build a Buddhist hall for worship,” Heng Try said.
Tuol Ang Yeay Pov hill, a 30 by 40 metre ancient site of worship dating back at least 800 years to the reign of king Jayavarman VII, is recognised as a protected site of worship and as state property by Tram Kak district’s cultural department, Heng Try said.
Meth Phai, deputy governor of Tram Kak district, confirmed the site was protected state property and said officials from the district culture department had investigated the site on Friday to make sure the businessman’s actions had not impacted on the site.
“No one has the right to clear the hill because it is the villagers’ collective land [and is] state property,” he said.
Srey Saroeun, deputy chief of Thmey village also confirmed the hill was protected state property under the jurisdiction of the district culture department.
Thursday’s wasn’t the first time a businessman had tried to profit from the sacred hill, Srey Saroeun said.
In March, 2009, the former chief of Thmey village, Ty Chhe, attempted to sell Tuol Ang Yeay Pov hill along with surrounding rice paddies to a private businessman, he said.
“Suddenly, villagers made a complaint, submitting a letter to the district authority [requesting] that they help intervene,” he said.
Srey Saroeun added that district authorities reacted by issuing a letter stating that the land was state property.