Six villagers were arrested and sent to court on Monday for allegedly clearing land belonging to a tycoon in Preah Sihanouk.
The six are part of 56 families embroiled in a land dispute involving 85 hectares with Oknha Tan Tat in Village 4, Otres commune, Stung Hav district, according to a villager and local rights groups Adhoc.
Tat brought a complaint to the provincial Military Police about villagers clearing forest on their land, according to Adhoc provincial coordinator Chieb Sotheary.
Military Police arrested them on Sunday and detained them overnight, Sotheary said.
“The villagers were sued in a criminal case of violence [committed] on the legal land of the property owner,” she said, adding that they were living on the land. “They clear the land because they have the land documents too”.
The villagers had farmed the land since 1992, she said, and were given ownership titles recognised by local authorities in 2003. However, Tat was also granted a land title for 85 hectares in the same area in 1995, she said. She said the villagers were sent to the provincial court on Monday for questioning, but court spokesperson Yim Bonareth said he was unaware of the case.
Hy Ra, 36, the son of Luch Choch, one of the arrested villagers, said he was told the land was owned by someone else and the people were prohibited from cultivating.
“I have lived on the land since 1992. How can it have another owner? I asked them to meet, but they have not come and met yet, so we just cleared the grass and forest behind the house,” he said. “They started deploying the Military Police forces to arrest them,” he said.
Heng Bunty, provincial Military Police commander, declined to comment. The Post called Tat on a mobile phone number registered to his company, but the respondent denied he was Tan Tat.