After staging a protest in Banteay Meanchey province and failing to win the release of two villagers being held over a Malai district land dispute, three representatives said they would bring the land dispute to the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution today in Phnom Penh.
Por Tom, a representative for 142 demobilized soldiers, said Malai district police, at the bequest of businessman Ly Uth Ny, arrested Saing Ban and Yin Vang on May 27 as the pair were plowing on a 180-hectare plot of disputed land. The arrests led to the protest, which began Monday.
Judge Ang Mealtey, the court’s president, and Judge Theam Chanpiseth met with the protesters on Tuesday and said that in exchange for the release of Mr Ban and Mr Vang, the villagers were to collect thumbprints on a document promising not to touch the land until the court decides who the legal owner is.
The villagers declined. “Because the dispute has lasted a decade, we are not able to farm to make a living,” Ms Tom said.
She said she and two other representatives were to hold a news conference today in Phnom Penh to announce their lodging of a complaint with the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution. They will be joined by representatives of villagers from O’Chrou district, whose representative is also being held in prison over a separate land dispute.
The Malai district dispute first erupted in 2000 when the families of demobilized soldiers say they discovered military commanders and deputy commanders were grabbing their land and selling it off, particularly to Mr Uth Ny, director Ly Uth Ny Import-Export Co.
Chan Dara, a representative for Mr Uth Ny, denied that Mr Uth Ny legally purchased more than 450 hectares from Colonel Preap Sarun, the current commander of Region 5’s 512th Battalion, and denied that the company was behind the arrests. He insisted that the villagers’ decision to take the dispute to the National Authority was a positive development.
“If the upper levels at the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution granted the disputed land to the villagers, we would take legal action against the commander who sold us the land,” Mr Dara said.