Twelve people from Prek Takov commune in Kandal province’s Khsach Kandal district were briefly held on February 17 after they attempted to prevent police from demolishing stone fences built on a disputed plot of land.
District police chief Men Sokhoeun confirmed to The Post that the 12 Prek Lvea villagers were only brought in for questioning.
“We called them in as part of procedure to file a report. No one has been detained yet,” Sokhoeun said.
Hang Raing, the 68-year-old landowner at the site of the incident, said he had bought more than 4ha of land from seven villagers in 1993, and in 1996 he received a temporary land declaration with valid land tenure. He said he farmed the land for many years without problems until a group of local residents arrived and began erecting a fence across his property.
“There was a confrontation on January 14 this year. These people came to set up a fence so we went to stop them and called authorities to intervene. They stopped work until we left, and then they resumed until they had nearly completed their construction work.
“Officials instructed them several times not to continue with construction before the fence was dismantled,” Raing said.
District governor Bun Pheng said the 12 were held for instigating violent clashes against his officers as they sought to enforce a ban on the construction of fortifications on private land. He confirmed that after receiving a complaint from Raing, district authorities intervened to mediate the dispute.
“Raing bought land from seven families in 1993 and has farmed it until now. No one protested, and there is also a receipt for the land tenure application,” he said.
Last month, however, members of 10 families led by men named Kong Kim, Keut Ky, Chhum Lon and Eng Kan arrived to stake a claim and began construction on the land.
The district governor said authorities had invited all concerned parties to mediation and sought to prevent further construction on the land many times, but the 12 villagers were uncooperative.
On February 9, the district administration set a deadline for February 15 for the 10 families to remove all structures at the site of the dispute. When the time elapsed, authorities acted to enforce the law.
Prek Takov commune chief Chea Mach said the land had originally been occupied by a group of 10 families. Seven eventually sold their plots to Raing. Those who dispute Raing’s ownership claim that he also took bush lands at the periphery to cultivate, but that land had not been sold and was not rightfully his.
Mach said he had tried many times to reconcile the people on both sides, but as they had failed to reach an agreement, he referred the matter to the district administration for a resolution.
None of the 12 individuals brought for questioning could be reached for comment.
Y Chamroeun, defence lawyer for the group, said his clients were only demanding return of land which they had not sold. They had no dispute with Raing over the plots which were sold legally.
“They claim that the problem began when the buyer [Raing] grabbed the bush land which had not been sold, and the fence they erected only surrounded land which is rightfully theirs,” Chamroeun said.