An ethnic Kuoy land rights activist was detained by police in Preah Vihear province on Monday after taking part in an ongoing protest against three businesses that villagers claim encroached on their farmland, officials said.
About 100 villagers—who say they have been living on the disputed land since 2003—protested in front of the provincial hall for the eighth consecutive day against the Chinese-owned Lan Feng and Roy Feng sugar plantations and the Vietnamese-owned PNT rubber plantation. Villagers accuse the firms of seizing and illegally clearing more than 5,000 hectares of communal land.
After protesting outside the provincial hall in the early morning, activist Vong Sokhengly was arrested around 9 a.m. at a nearby market, he said in a video posted to the Facebook page of local NGO Ponlok Khmer.
“They arrested and pushed me to get into the car like an animal without allowing me to say anything,” Mr. Sokhengly says in the video. “They took me to Rovieng district police station and they threatened to put me in Prey Sar prison. I said I was not afraid because I did nothing wrong.”
Provincial police chief Si Kiri denied Mr. Sokhengly was arrested, saying instead that he was brought in for questioning over a complaint the companies filed with police accusing him of blocking a road.
“He was not arrested, we just called him in to verify a complaint by the companies and then we allowed him to return to his house,” Mr. Kiri said.
In response to Mr. Sokhengly’s brief detention, fellow activists blocked the gates to the provincial hall with trucks until he was released, said Nuon Mun, a 65-year-old village representative.
Deputy provincial governor Kou Sombunsoeun said that after Mr. Sokhengly was freed, provincial governor Oum Mara negotiated a deal with the protesters, promising to order the companies to stop clearing land on the disputed tract as a working group reviews the disputed boundaries.
Ms. Mun said the group agreed to return home, but would restart protests if authorities did not follow through on the promised review.