At least 60 villagers from Battambang province protested in front of the National Assembly on Wednesday, asking parliament to help release nine villagers arrested in a land dispute earlier this month in Bavel district.
Authorities arrested the nine villagers between Dec 5 and 6 and charged them with robbery for harvesting rice on 180 hectares of contested land.
The nine belong to a group of 112 families who claimed the land was among hundreds of hectares grabbed from them by ex-Khmer Rouge soldiers who defected to the government in 1997. The land was subsequently sold to 46 other families, the villagers said.
The dispute remained simmering for years, until the 112 families planted rice there earlier this year and attempted to harvest it this month.
“The police authority regards us as thieves,” said villager Sou Suong, 55, outside the Assembly.
Hok Chhork, whose husband was one of the nine arrested, said police forced her husband to thumbprint a confession saying he was a thief. “I have nobody to rely on. Because I am pregnant, I do not have anything to support my family,” she said.
National Assembly Secretary-General Kim San accepted the villagers’ complaint and promised to find a resolution. The protesters’ representative Chhoeurn Ny said the villagers will not leave until they had a statement in writing from officials in Phnom Penh. “I will not return until we have some written letter,” she said.