Land Dispute Leads to SRP Commune Councilor’s Arrest

Authorities in Kompong Thom province arrested an opposition commune councilor and candidate and charged him with clearing and grabbing state land, a court official said on Sunday.

Neth Sao, a Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) councilor in Santuk district’s Kraya commune, was charged on Saturday along with Chan Thoeun, a local villager, said Meas Vattana, deputy prosecutor for the Kompong Thom Provincial Court.

“The court charged the two people on Sunday and they are now in provisional detention at the provincial prison,” Mr. Vattana said before hanging up.

But the head of the local Forestry Administration cantonment, Tep Yeata, said on Sunday that the commune councilor was arrested strictly for land-grabbing.

Mr. Yeata said Mr. Sao and Mr. Thoeun were members of a group of 17 families that started moving onto the state land without permission in 2014, and have since occupied about 3 hectares.

He said the families were repeatedly told to move off the land and that Forestry officials finally filed a complaint against them with the provincial court earlier this month. When he and his staff went to the site on Friday morning to tear down the homes, he said Mr. Sao and Mr. Thoeun pushed them away.

“We told the pair that the land belongs to the state and we asked them to leave, but they refused and they attempted to prevent us from removing the houses,” he said, adding that both were arrested.

Mr. Yeata said the 17 homes were torn down the same day.

Mr. Sao is running for re-election in the June 4 commune elections as a candidate for the CNRP, which was formed from the merger of the SRP and the Human Rights Party in 2012.

Spokesmen for the CNRP and SRP could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

In February, two CNRP commune candidates were arrested in separate cases in what the party claimed were attempts to keep them from running in the coming elections, an allegation the ruling CPP denied. Chao Veasna, a deputy Poipet commune chief, was charged with incitement over a 2015 protest that turned violent, while Ly Sokun, the second deputy chief of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak I commune, was charged with forgery.

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