B Meanchey Villagers Detail Arrests Over Land

Villagers from Banteay Meanchey’s Serei Saophoan district said Monday that police have begun arresting them over a land dispute with local authorities and called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene.

Speaking to reporters in the park opposite Wat Botum in Phnom Penh, about 20 villagers from Preah Ponlea commune’s Village 3 said three men from the village’s 335 families had been arrested separately on March 8 and 13 and Friday.

“On [Friday], police in civilian clothes came to arrest my mother. Now villagers are fleeing the village,” said Nuon Phirum, a kickboxer from the village.

Nuon Phirum explained that his mother had evaded arrest and was present at the gathering Monday.

Villagers in Phnom Penh claimed Monday they had been living on the land since the late 1980s and that in 2000, Hun Sen had written a letter instructing local authorities to issue them land titles. Villagers showed copies of that letter to reporters.

However, they claimed, De-puty Provincial Governor Sok Sareth and local authorities have colluded with land developers to press the villagers to each accept 4-meter-by-20-meter plots elsewhere.

Neither Provincial Governor Orn Sam, nor Sok Sareth nor provincial police chief Hun Hean could be reached Monday.

However, Sim Kuch, an investigating judge at the provincial court, said the three villagers had been arrested on suspicion of illegally occupying portions of the disputed 10.8-hectare plot.

Those detained are Song Yong Hong, 34, arrested March 8, a man identified as Phal, 33, arrested March 13, and Ear Thith, 72.

Sim Kuch said if authorities determined that the detainees had accepted the offer of smaller plots, they would be released. However, he declined to say who claimed to own the land or how many more villagers could be arrested.

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