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.