Around 100 villagers seized a bulldozer in Sihanoukville’s Prey Nop district on Saturday after it was used to destroy around 20 graves in a pagoda cemetery, Bit Traing commune chief Luck Kean said Monday.
Old and new graves had been bulldozed flat at the Kiri Sokha Ram pagoda graveyard, and the villagers who commandeered the machine impounded it at the commune office, Luck Kean said.
“There was a nasty smell from some of the graves,” he said.
The driver of the bulldozer told the enraged villagers that he had been hired by a company who claimed to own the land after buying it from Ruos Tieth, RCAF deputy commander for Sihanoukville, he added.
The company involved, whose name Luck Kean said he did not know, has agreed to bring documents proving they bought the graveyard land from Ruos Tieth. The company intends to negotiate in order to get their bulldozer back.
“The people reacted against the bulldozing of their ancestors’ graves and requested that the tractor be detained,” Prey Nop District Governor Ban Sarom said Sunday.
Ban Sarom added that no permission was sought by the company to clear the cemetery.
Sihanoukville Municipal Governor Say Hak said further work would not continue until the dispute with locals is solved.
Luck Kean said desecration of the graveyard follows two other cases of illegal bulldozing in his commune in the last week alone.
“We stop it here, it takes place there,” he said of the bulldozing, adding that last week a bulldozer used to dig up part of a farm belonging to 20 families in nearby Chamnaot Ream village was defended by five armed men.
Ruos Tieth could not be reached for comment Monday.
Adhoc provincial coordinator Cheab Sotheary said Sunday that the villagers detained the machines in a peaceful and nonviolent fashion.