Two dozen villagers representing 400 families locked in a Battambang province land dispute protested in front of the Defense Ministry and military police headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday to demand the release of one of their own.
Chan Soveth, chief monitor for the human-rights group Adhoc, said the families accuse RCAF Captain Saom Bunthoeun and military police Lieutenant Colonel Long Sinarea of selling 1,672 hectares of their land in Kors Kralor district’s Dounba commune to an unnamed Chinese company in 2006.
Sam Oeun, one of the villagers, said they started their protest with a rally in front of the Justice Ministry on Wednesday to demand the release of community representative Hun Sengly, who is nearly 21 months into a five-year prison sentence on charges stemming from a 2008 demonstration against land grabbing.
“First we want the Ministry of Justice to release the representative, who was arrested in front of the Ministry of Defense during a rally asking for intervention…on Aug 22, 2008,” said Horn Born, Mr Sengly’s mother.
Mr Oeun said they were also calling on the Justice Ministry to stop the company’s bulldozers for clearing their land.
Daunba commune chief Chen Sam On, whom the villagers accuse of colluding in the sale of their land, said yesterday that the families were newcomers who did not legally own the land and that most had accepted 25-by-50-meter plots the government offered them to settle the dispute.
Mr Bunthoeun and Mr Sinarea could not be reached.
In a separate case in Pursat province, the chief and police chief of Bakan district’s Trapaing commune have accused Hem Sarith, the former head of the province’s social affairs department, of land grabbing.
Commune chief Yam Yen and police chief Bum Soeun said Mr Sarith has illegally fenced off an approximately 100-meter strip of public land along either side of a local irrigation canal.
Mr Soeun said he has asked Mr Sarith to meet him at his office on Monday to resolve the matter.
“People want to keep it as public property,” Mr Soeun said of the land in question. “If people keep doing this, it causes chaos.”
Mr Sarith yesterday admitted to fencing off 80 meters of land, but only to keep animals from fouling the canal, on whose banks he said he has been growing rice sine 1979.