Authorities in Kandal province on Wednesday began investigating a dispute in Kandal Stung district between villagers and the Heng Development Company over 300-hectares of land, district Governor Bun Theng said.
About 150 villagers representing 300 families involved in the dispute protested Monday outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house near Takhmau town, claiming that Heng Development is bulldozing their farms, Bun Theng said.
“I have ordered my colleagues to investigate the matter,” Bun Theng said by telephone Thursday, adding that the investigation was prompted by the protest.
According to Pen Makara, Kandal representative for local rights group Adhoc, the dispute erupted Sunday when Heng Development began clearing a 300-hectare swath of land in the communes of Ampov Prey and Kandork, which are farmed by the 300 families.
The situation quickly turned violent, with villagers claiming that guards had fired shots to prevent them from entering the area being cleared, Pen Makara said.
On Wednesday, about 30 to 40 police and military police armed with AK-47 rifles were standing guard at the disputed location, he added.
A Heng Development Company employee who would only identify herself as an assistant to the company’s owner said the firm rightfully purchased the land in the 1990s and initially allowed the villagers to continue farming on it.
In July and August of this year, the company went door-to-door telling villagers not to farm the land because the company now planned to begin development of a large rice and cassava plantation.
“The villagers did not listen,” the employee said Thursday.
A representative of the protesting villagers, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that while Heng Development had legally purchased parcels of land from 1993 to 1995, the company also promised to allow the villagers to continue farming the land for a small fee.