ABOUT 200 residents of Svay Rieng province involved in a land dispute with a rubber company travelled to the home of Senate President Chea Sim on Tuesday to protest the continued detention of one of their representatives, after Romeas Hek district police prevented them from going to Svay Rieng town, villagers said.
The same villagers on Monday staged a protest in front of the Romeas Hek district police office following the arrest of Yea Yeoung, whom authorities have accused of “briefly kidnapping” a company representative.
Prior to his arrest, Yea Yeoung had been advocating on behalf of more than 400 families who say they will lose their land to the Peam Chaing Rubber Company, which was granted a concession totalling nearly 4,000 hectares in 2007.
Upon arriving at Chea Sim’s home in Prey Veng province’s Komchay Mear district, the villagers presented the complaint they had prepared for Svay Rieng provincial officials to a woman who greeted them, villager Pao Chhat said.
Sorn Sam Oun, another villager, said it was just as well that they had been blocked from going to Svay Rieng town.
“We have filed complaints many times to the provincial governor, but they have never responded,” he said. “So we want Chea Sim to help us now. We have lost confidence with the provincial authorities.”
Romeas Hek Police Chief Chum Ry denied that his officers had blocked the road to Svay Rieng, but said the villagers should not travel to Svay Rieng in a large group.
“The villagers need to understand about the law. They cannot go as a group. They should find a lawyer if they want to help their representative,” he said.
He added that Yea Yeoung had been transferred from the district office to the provincial court, and that he would likely be charged with “briefly kidnapping” a company representative during an altercation on Sunday as well as threatening to burn down public property.
Hem Soun, the deputy chief of Tras commune, where the disputed land is located, said the rubber company had been granted 3,960 hectares of land to develop a rubber plantation.
Hem Sokun, the deputy governor of Romeas Hek district, said the families had been offered relocation land.
“The company has 700 hectares of land to give to them as a social concession, but middlemen incited the families, and they did not agree to accept,” he said.
He added that the proposed rubber plantation would be the first in Svay Rieng, and that the families “should understand that they will get a lot of profit from the company when they start to operate”.