Migrant Farmers Arrested for Paddy Blazes

Two migrant farmworkers were arrested and sent to Battam­bang provincial prison, accused of intentionally burning a total of about 123 hectares of rice paddy, police said Tuesday, though the two men maintained the fires were accidental.

Proeun Saroeun, 45, from Siem Reap province was arrested Dec 23 for starting a fire in Battam­bang’s Thmar Koul district by cooking in the drought-stricken fields, police said. The fire des­troyed 102 hectares of rice paddy.

In a separate case, Pursat prov­ince native Sim Puoch, 37, was arrested Dec 26 after a fire ignited 21 hectares of rice paddy when he threw a burning cigarette onto the ground.

Battambang minor crimes police Chief Prum Thean said his officers made the arrests because the men were seen intentionally burning the rice.

Both farmworkers were hired to help landowners harvest the rice for payment of about 10,000 riel for every 30 square meters cleared, he said. If found guilty, they face up to three years in prison, in addition to compensation payments for the lost harvest, Prum Thean said.

Provincial Prosecutor Yam Yet said Tuesday that he is trying to determine whether the fires were intentional.

“The suspects said they are innocent and they had no intention to burn,” he said. “They said they were just negligent.”

A series of fires has erupted in Bat­tambang and Banteay Mean­chey provinces over the past week. Provincial officials and disaster management authorities say that a nationwide drought has made rice fields more susceptible to fires.

Migrant workers cooking and smoking in the fields have also been blamed, causing some to flee out of fear of retribution.

After one fire in Banteay Mean­chey province’s Mongkol Borei district on Friday, a family fled after their two boys, ages 5 and 6, were accused of starting a blaze that consumed some 450 hec­tares of rice paddy, said Sin Na­rak, Mongkol Borei district police chief, on Sunday.

He said the parents were afraid they would be arrested and or­dered to pay compensation.


Related Stories

Latest News