Hundreds of supporters of the League for Democracy Party (LDP) rallied on Sunday outside the Kampot provincial police headquarters to demand the release of 13 jailed party members, officials said on Sunday.
Police arrested the 13 LDP members on Saturday, accusing them of destroying crops and attempting to seize state land in Chhuk district’s Techo Aphivat commune.
Protester Rin Kosal said the men were innocent and were merely defending LDP member Ly Kim Hong, who he said is ensnared in a long-standing land dispute with his sister over a quarter-hectare plot of land there.
“Police arrested our members and supporters on Sunday afternoon and we are now coming to ask authorities to release them because they did nothing wrong,” he said. “The 13 people were trying to stop a woman from planting crops on the disputed land when about 20 police arrived.”
Provincial police chief Mao Chanmathurith gave a different account of events.
“We arrested 13 people on Sunday because they destroyed the crops of a villager, and they also cleared a plot of state land in an attempt to grab the land,” he said.
Major General Chanmathurith said he was not sure how much land the suspects were accused of clearing, but that the group was being questioned at the provincial police station.
Deputy provincial governor Sim Vuthea said the disputed land lay within a 1,280 hectare social land concession that had already been granted to other families.
“The arrest was made after many families filed complaints with our authorities and accused the 13 people and Ly Kim Hong of attempting to grab the family’s land,” he said.
Mr. Vuthea said that police continue to search for Mr. Kim Hong, who eluded arrest in the confrontation. The 13 suspects were set to be sent to court today, he said.
Mr. Vuthea denied that politics played any role in the arrests.
The LDP is headed by Khem Veasna, an outspoken politician best known for his combative radio show.