Man Arrested for Alleged Detention Over Land Dispute

Police arrested a Svay Rieng province man yesterday for his alleged role in detaining and threatening the lives of three workers from an agricultural concession and a military policeman over an escalating land dispute in Romeas Hek di­strict, district police chief Chum Rei said.

The suspect, Year Yeng, was ar­rested for his role in villagers’ detention of four men from Friday to Sunday in Tros commune. The villagers were demanding that a private agricultural firm, Pearm Chaing, fill in a ditch the company had dug that villagers said had cut off ac­cess to an important pathway, Mr Rei said.

“We arrested [Mr Yeng] because they kidnapped and threatened to kill company officials and a district de­puty military police commander,” Mr Rei said, adding that authorities are also searching for two other suspects. “We will arrest the remaining leaders at another time.”

Local resident Pov Chhat, 38, denied that he or his fellow villagers had detained anyone and said that one of the allegedly detained individuals, Pearm Chaing’s acting director Pin Soden, had voluntarily ordered his workers to fill the ditch back in at the request of the villagers.

“We did not detain them,” Mr Chhat said yesterday. “We just ask­ed them to fill the ditch. They filled it. But we wonder why the po­lice arrested the villager. We did nothing wrong.”

Villagers say thousands of families in Tros commune lost land when the government in 2007 ce­ded 3,960 hectares to Pearm Chaing for a rubber plantation. Since then the company has tried to stop villagers from planting cassava on the land.

“We depend on planting cassava,” Mr Chhat said. “If we lose the land, how can we live?”

On Monday morning, about 150 villagers gathered in front of the Romeas Hek district police office to call for the release of Mr Yeng, according to Mr Rei.

But Mr Yeng had already been sent to the provincial prison and the pro­testers dispersed before 5 pm with­out incident, the police chief added.

Svay Rieng Provincial Prosecutor Keo Sothea declined to comment.

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