Banteay Meanchey Villager Claims Arrest Threat in Land Dispute

A Banteay Meanchey province villager said yesterday that a village chief had threatened to have him jailed unless he dropped his complaint that a supposed bodyguard of Prime Minister Hun Sen colluded with authorities to steal residents’ land.

According to Kong Sarun, a representative of 85 Serei Saophoan City families, the land dispute dates back to 1994 when the Forestry Administration occupied 78 hectares of their farmland for an acacia tree nursery. According to Mr Sarun, a man who identified himself as Vy Sothoeurn, and as one of the premier’s bodyguards, began urging families to sell the land to him in 2008.

Last month, when local authorities offered to let residents keep 52 hectares, in exchange for abandoning the other 26, Mr Sarun said 14 of the families decided to speak up, filing complaints with the province, the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution and local rights group Adhoc.

But according to Mr Sarun, Pongro village chief Sat Thath on Sunday threatened to have him arrested unless the villagers dropped their complaints against Mr Sothoeurn.

“[He said] if you do not do it, after Pchum Ben is over you will see police officers and military police at your home,” Mr Sarun said.

Mr Sarun said the families would not drop their complaints, but was worried for his safety. “I am worried about my security after listening to the words of warning,” he said.

Mr Thath said he visited Mr Sarun in hopes of negotiating a compromise between Mr Sothoeurn and the families, but denied making any threats.

“I went to Sarun’s home Sunday night and told him to drop the complaints against Vy Sothoeurn,” he said. “I compromise between villagers and businessmen to prevent violence, but I did not threaten him with arrest.”

General Hing Bunheang, who heads the premier’s bodyguard unit, has previously said that no one by that name served under him, suggesting that whoever approached the villagers had deceived them.

Provincial governor Ung Oeurn said yesterday that he had no recollection of the case.


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