Police and military police stopped about 200 villagers from entering rice fields in Battambang province yesterday, saying they had no right to harvest in the 100-hectare area because it belonged to well-known businessman Song Thon, villagers said.
Chhut Mao, a 64-year-old village representative of Lvea commune, Bavel district, said police had threatened to destroy their crops on land they had farmed for five years. Villagers believed the only way to stand up to authorities was to use violence, he added.
“Villagers plan to burn [Song Thon’s] harvest machine if police dare to burn our rice.”
He said the land was part of 300 hectares the 160 families had used since 2006, and they fear police will stop them from farming the other 200 hectares, most of which Song Thon also claims to own.
Min Sarun, 46, said the villagers did not understand why police had told them the land belonged to Song Thon.
“It is not our fault – if we do not use violence, we cannot find a resolution.”
He said police and military police had built a small cottage on the land to use while they kept villagers away.
“Now we are afraid police will arrest us at night.”
Some villagers suspected Song Thon had paid police to drive them away.
Song Thon rejected this claim and said the government had told him it would return the land to him.
He said he had owned the land from 1998 until the government seized it in 2006 to offer as a social land concession.
Under the law, the government must offer seized land to poor people and former soldiers; however, this land has never been offered to anyone.
Kom Reuy, deputy police chief of Bavel district, said he was unfamiliar with the issue as other officers had handled it.
According to a report by Adhoc, similar incidents across the Kingdom resulted in 173 villagers being charged for damaging property, inciting protests and trespassing between January and September this year.