Land Dispute Triggers Standoff With 50 Officers

More than 50 intervention police off­icers were involved in a stand-off with at least 300 Phnom Penh residents brandishing farm implements over a land dispute in Dang­kao district on Friday, officials and vil­­lagers said Sunday.

The confrontation began when po­­lice officers armed with shields and batons arrived in Prey Sar commune’s Braka village to implement a court warrant stopping villagers from transporting soil to fill 4.5 hec­tares of disputed land, said Chan So­­veth, an investigator with local rights group Adhoc.

“It is a complex land issue be­cause there are many powerful people behind those police and villagers,” Chan Soveth said.

“Villagers carried hoes, knives, sticks and other useful weapons,” he said, adding that some of the po­lice retreated on Friday while others remained stationed at the site.

Mong Sokheng, who identified her­­self as a representative for 356 fam­ilies involved in the dispute and a sister of local tycoon Mong Reth­thy, said a former commune chief and other local officials are con­spiring to take the land from the vil­lagers and sell it.

Chan Soveth said a private individual identified as Tey Vavanny has filed a complaint with Phnom Penh Municipal Court accusing five villagers, including Mong Sok­heng, of infringing on her property. Tey Vavanny could not be reached for comment.

The villagers wrote to Prime Min­i­ster Hun Sen in 2004 asking him to intervene in the dispute, Mong Sokheng said. They also wrote to Mong Reththy, suggesting that he develop the land to provide them with jobs, she added.

Monivann Tann, deputy director of the Mong Reththy group, said he had heard the villagers wanted the firm to develop the land.

“I am very pleased to help those vil­lagers if the land really belongs to them,” he said. Ros Ream, one of the protesters, said he was confident that Hun Sen and Mong Reththy would be able to help them. “Both of them are strong men,” he said.

Khat Sokhay, Prey Sar commune chief, said current commune of­­ficials are not involved in the dispute.

Mom Sovath, Dangkao district po­lice chief, said his police force co­operated with the intervention po­lice to enforce an order from the Mu­n­icipal Court to stop the land from be­ing filled.

Ouk Savouth, the court’s chief prosecutor, could not be reached for comment.

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