Villagers continue to protest outside the Siem Reap courthouse for the release of three men accused of tying a district govenor to land deals
The three men detained over the dispute allege that the Chi Kraeng district governor has been trying since 2004 to force 1,347 families from their land in Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes so he can sell the land to an unknown businessman.
Siem Reap Province
VILLAGERS were continuing a week-old demonstration Sunday outside Siem Reap provincial court, demanding the release of three jailed activists despite their commune chief urging them to return home and allow the matter to be dealt with through legal channels.
The recent protests erupted in November following the arrest of two Chi Kraeng commune farmers and a journalist from local newspaper Khmer Society who allegedly claimed a district governor was interfering in the dispute.
The arrests prompted an eruption of anger from Chi Kraeng commune - the majority of whom are farmers. They burned tires outside the Siem Reap courthouse and posted pig heads to members of staff there, despite requests from their commune chief to be peaceful.
"I went to the courthouse to try and bring them back but they did not come," Chi Kraeng commune chief Loeu Chenda told the Post on Wednesday.
Kim Savoeun, a representative of the Chi Kraeng protestors, told the Post Thursday that cooperating with the commune chief would be fruitless, as he believes she has organised a deal for the sale of the land behind their backs. "We will remain outside the courthouse until the three prisoners are released."
Farmers from Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes on the outskirts of Siem Reap province both claim ownership over the 475 hectares of flatland that falls within the borders of Anlong Samnor commune.
The Chi Kraeng community claim their district governor, in collusion with their commune chief, has sided with the Anlong Samnor villagers in a bid to force the 1,347 families in the area from their land so it could be sold for development.
Ownership of the area is hotly contested, and according to Anlong Samnor assistant commune chief At Eng and Korng Choeuh, a representative of the Anlong Samnor community, the Chi Kraeng farmers do not themselves have any rights to the farm land.
They claim the protesting farmers are new arrivals, telling the Post Wednesday that Chi Kraeng families only started moving onto the land after November 23 this year and are now preventing the original land owners of Anlong Samnor from planting their crops.
"We will give all the paperwork and ownership records to the commune chief so he can prove it to the court," At Eng said.
According to At Eng, the disputed land has been used by Anlong Samnor farmers since 2005. Now, he says, the commune's main concern is legally evicting the Chi Kraeng villagers.
"I am sure the verdict will be favourable. One side has no paperwork, and Anlong Samnor commune has all the records. Even the governor tried to appeal to the people in Chi Kraeng, but they were uncooperative," he said.