9 Villagers Arrested in S’ville Land Dispute

Police, military police and court of­ficials arrested nine villagers in­volved in a Sihanoukville land dispute, accusing them of inciting others to grab land in the municipality’s Mittapheap district, officials said Monday.

The weekend arrests, which Si­ha­­noukville Governor Say Hak said began Friday, were the first actions taken since land dis­putes in the municipality heated up last month after officials claimed that villagers grabbed 125 hectares of land.

Villagers said they belong to poor, landless families who cleared and settled peacefully on the land, some as long as four years ago. They claimed powerful people were trying to get hold of the cleared land now because property prices are rising.

Police, however, will continue to arrest suspected ringleaders and will evict residents still on the land today, Say Hak said.

“We released a statement broad­cast through radio and television informing other villagers to re­locate from the disputed land be­­fore Nov 16 or we will use ad­min­istrative measures to clear them,” Say Hak said. He declined to name those arrested, directing questions to police.

Kol Phally, bureau chief of Si­ha­noukville penal police, named Chhun Sarin, 49, as one of the top ringleaders.

“Chhun Sarin grabbed the land not to settle, but he took the land to sell to make money. It is not his first crime, he has organized many land grabs,” Kol Phally said. He declined to name the other eight people arrested.

Investigating Judge Tax Kim­sear declined to comment Mon­day.

Villagers, meanwhile, vehemently denied that anyone incited them to grab the land.

“The arrested villagers are in­nocent. No one incited us to grab the land,” said a 45-year-old wo­man, who for fear of repercussions gave only the name So­ph­oan.

“They arrested us to intimidate us into moving from the land,” she said.

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