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Villagers take up weapons

Villagers take up weapons

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Kampong Speu villagers brandishing wooden clubs gear up for a potential clash with local security forces last March.

Violence was poised to break out in Kampong Speu and Kandal provinces today after hundreds of villagers armed themselves with knives, axes and slingshots to combat authorities due to evict them from disputed land.

Residents took up the weapons to face a 400-strong force of police and local officials set to implement a Supreme Court-ordered eviction in five villages in both provinces this morning.

Ngem Chea, 74, a resident of Por village in Odong district’s Damnak Raing commune, Kampong Speu province, said that villagers were prepared to resist.

“We have about 400 people and we have prepared stones, slingshots, bats, knives, axes … to protect our land,” he said. “We will not move from the land because we never sold the land to anyone.”

Villagers from Stock Slat village in Phnom Touch commune are also slated to be evicted, Damnak Raing Commune chief Mok Dim confirmed yesterday.

“There will be arrests of some villagers if they do not agree to leave peacefully,” he said.  “However, we are concerned about and pity those villagers because they make a living by planting rice on the land.”
Kandal province residents from Tuol Serei, Ang Taseth and Kuol villages in Ang Snuol district’s Tuol Pich commune are also facing eviction today, said Poy Heang, a villager from Tuol Serei, earlier this week.

Kampong Speu provincial court awarded a 65-hectare plot of land across both provinces to Meng Keth Company – owned by Taiwanese businessman Kuo Sheng – in October 2004, after company representative Ky Dara filed a complaint alleging that the land belonged to the firm. The villagers have denied selling land to the company but have no land titles to their names.

A total of 88 families filed a case with the Appeal Court which eventually ruled against them in 2007. The case was passed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of Meng Keth Company in December 2009.

Violence erupted in Odong district in March last year when officials attempted to implement the Supreme Court verdict. Villagers attacked police with stones and bamboo staves. Police retaliated by beating villagers with batons and firing their guns into the air. Twelve villagers and 14 local police were injured in the altercation.

Kampong Speu provincial court prosecutor Khut Sopheang warned yesterday that villagers should not resort  to the use of violence.

“The villagers have to respect the law,” he said. “If they do not respect the law, they will face prosecution.”

Representatives from Meng Keth Company could not be reached for comment yesterday by The Post.

Around 70 residents from the disputed area submitted a petition to officials from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, requesting that the premier stay the eviction pending the results of an Interior Ministry investigation into the dispute.

Kol Vireak, director general of inspection at the Interior Ministry, said yesterday:  “The investigation is not finished, [but] the court prosecutor can implement the [Supreme Court] verdict and I have no right to ban them.”

He added that he would monitor the eviction.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak also confirmed the investigation yesterday, but said that he could not intervene in the eviction.

“I request that the authorities do not use violence against the people … [and] the people should not use violence against the authorities,” he said.

Roth Thavy, Kampong Speu provincial investigator for rights group Adhoc, said on Tuesday that Interior Ministry officials had found irregularities in the case. He claims that the families did not in fact sell the land.

“The provincial court and coalition authorities should wait for the result of the new investigation before implementing the Supreme Court’s verdict,” he said.

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