Villagers in Banteay Meanchey province have accused local authorities of colluding with a purported member of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit to take their farmland, according to villagers and a local rights group.
Kong Sarun, a representative of 85 Serei Saophoan City families, said the dispute dated back to 1994, when, against their will, the Forestry Administration occupied 78 hectares of their farmland for an acacia tree nursery.
In 2008, he added, a man identifying himself as Vy Sothoeurn and claiming to be one of the premier’s bodyguards, began urging them to sell him the land. According to Mr Sarun, some of the families capitulated out of fear, giving up a total of 10 hectares.
Last month, Mr Sarun said, city and commune officials offered to let the villagers keep 52 of the disputed 78 hectares in exchange for letting the Forestry Administration keep the rest, which the villagers refused.
Mr Sarun said the villagers lodged their grievance with Adhoc yesterday, asking the human rights group to pass their complaint on to Mr Hun Sen’s Cabinet for an investigation.
Contact information for a Vy Sothoeurn could not be obtained. But General Hing Bunheang, deputy RCAF commander-in-chief and commander of the premier’s bodyguard unit, said no one by that name served under him.
Mr Sothoeurn “is not the premier’s bodyguard. It is just a disguised person,” he said.
Kompong Svay commune chief Ren Roek rejected the villagers’ claims.
According to Mr Svay, the villagers had occupied only a few of the disputed 78 hectares as of 1994, and had since cleared all but 26 hectares illegally.
“I only know that many villagers have laid claim to the Forestry Administration’s land,” he said.
Serei Saophoan City governor Oum Reatrey said the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution, a body within the Council of Ministers, discussed the issue during an August meeting at which chairman Bin Chhin proposed the 52/26 hectare split.
“When all the families agree, we will make a report to the [NALDR]. Then it can seek the prime minister’s approval,” he said.
Neither Mr Chhin nor local forestry officials could be reached yesterday.
Provincial Adhoc coordinator Soum Chankea said Adhoc would conduct its own investigation before proceeding further. He said the families had been farming the land since 1979.