More than 300 villagers living in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar commune in Dangkao district protested on Friday, calling for government intervention in a land dispute with a senior police official working at the Interior Ministry, villagers and a rights worker said.
The protesters, who shouted slogans through a megaphone on Friday morning, accused local authorities, including Dangkao’s district Police Chief Born Sam Arth, of working with police Major General In Samon to deprive them of the contested land, and of threatening villagers with imprisonment.
“Whatever we are demanding it is not to become rich,” said Mao Soly, who took part in the protest, referring to the 18-hectare plot of disputed land.
“We just need our land for farming,” she said.
Ms Soly said that around 100 armed police officers were deployed at the scene to disperse the protestors on Friday and that she and members of 325 other families first moved on to the land in question in 1979. In 1985, however, the villagers moved off the land when then-Deputy Interior Minister Sin Sen asked to “borrow” it to use as farmland for police officers living in the area, Ms Soly and others said. The villagers only moved back onto the land in 2007, she said.
When they moved back, they found that Mr Samon was claiming ownership, Ms Soly said, adding that the villagers filed a complaint with the court in 2007.
District police chief Mr Sam Arth said that police confiscated loudspeakers and microphones from the protesters on Friday.
“This is an illegal protest, especially as the other party has owned the land for more than 20 years,” he said, denying claims by villagers that police officers had threatened them.
Prey Sar commune chief Khat Sokhai said that he had seen documentation proving that Mr Samon had owned the land “since the 1980s with recognition from district and land management officials as well as the district authority.”
Mr Samon could not be reached for comment.