More than 100 villagers including ex-Khmer Rouge soldiers protested outside Battambang’s provincial head office for the second day Tuesday requesting intervention in a land dispute with a commune official and the release of two villagers from police detention, according to a rights monitor.
The group of villagers, which includes residents who claim to have been farming in the area since 1999, have been involved in the dispute since 2011 after the land in Bavel district’s Boeng Bram commune was granted to villagers from other provinces as a social land concession.
“The commune chief never researched as to whether any villagers were living on the land before reporting to a higher official and verifying the land concession,” said Yin Mengly, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.
Two villagers accused of attacking commune officials were arrested on July 18. Villagers say the officials cleared their farmland and attempted to intimidate them to leave the land.
About 140 protesting villagers set out five demands at the provincial office Tuesday. They asked authorities to stop threatening to arrest them, return seized tractors, release the two detained villagers, stop destroying farmers’ crops and create a committee to resolve the dispute.
Chhan Mony, 37, claimed to own 5 hectares of the farmland and said he has the documents to prove it.
“We request the governor intervene and release our villagers back. This dispute must be resolved for us and we cannot lose,” Mr. Mony said. He said that a Khmer Rouge commander in the area gave the land to local soldiers and that a former village chief signed off on the transfer.
Nguon Ratanak, provincial deputy governor, said the location had been allocated to 1,299 families as a social land concession. But if villagers had legitimate documents to prove ownership of the land, he said they can stay.
“If they have documents to prove it’s their land they will not have to move,” Mr. Ratanak said, adding that the decision of whether to release the two detained villagers was up to the provincial court.