After about 100 villagers on Sunday burned effigies of officials involved in a land dispute in Kompong Chhnang province that has dragged on for nearly a decade, the provincial governor said the protest was “contrary to the law” and gave authorities a reason to arrest the group.
The villagers from Lor Peang village in Kompong Tralach district’s Ta Ches commune have been battling KDC International over a 145-hectare plot since 2007, and tensions broke out in violence last year when the development firm built a brick wall around the disputed land. KDC is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.
On Sunday, the villagers cursed and burned effigies of Ms. Kheng and Mr. Sem, as well as four company officials and investors backing KDC’s expansion plans, according to Oum Sophy, who led the protest.
“We held the cursing ceremony to pray to the spirits to kill those people because we used cursing in previous years and our cursing was effective—as a result, we have seen some involved officials die,” she said.
Ms. Sophy said that since the villagers first turned to supernatural tactics in their attempt to win the land dispute in 2009, four officials involved in the dispute have died of either sickness or traffic accidents. Commune police chief Chuop Chanthoeun confirmed the deaths, but said he did not know whether the curses were the cause.
“I think that if those people do not agree to return the land to us, they are going to die because of our curse,” Ms. Sophy said of those targeted during Sunday’s ritual, adding that villagers threw chilies, salt and soil on the effigies as they burned.
Provincial governor Chhou Chandoeun said the villagers had broken the law.
“It is my understanding that cursing and looking down [on others] is contrary to the law, therefore authorities are able to arrest them because they violated the rights of other people,” he said.
“I don’t believe that our officials died from the cursing,” he added. “But if so, they [the villagers] are criminals.”