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School grounds’ ‘return’ to cop prompts protest

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Community members protest over land dispute in Battambong yesterday. Photo supplied.

School grounds’ ‘return’ to cop prompts protest

Dozens of villagers in Battambang town protested yesterday after the provincial court upheld a ruling granting ownership of a disputed plot of land to a provincial anti-drug police officer.

Protests first broke out in O’Char commune in the beginning of January after policeman Sao Buntith began building a fence on a hectare of land that villagers say belonged to the state, protesters said yesterday.

“We protest the handover of state land to a private person,” said one demonstrator who asked to remain anonymous.

Villagers began using the land to plant crops in 1979, and in 1984 the commune chief built a kindergarten there, the protester added. The kindergarten is now gone, but the villagers had hoped the state would build a school or a health centre on the property.

Buntith, however, said he inherited the land from his grandmother, who had only loaned the land to the commune chief to build the kindergarten. The local government, however, later gave the land to the provincial education department, at which point Buntith filed a complaint and won in late 2016, he said.

“I won the case against the education department, and they brought the case to the Appeal Court. But later on they took pity on me because I had no land to live on . . . so they withdrew the complaint,” Buntith explained.

Commune chief Hoa Khoeun yesterday corroborated Buntith’s version of events.

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