Mob Confronts Farmer Accused of Sparking Fire

The neighbors of a Battam­bang province rice farmer ac­cused of accidentally setting fire to more than 170 hectares of rice have surrounded his house and threatened to set it ablaze if compensation is not paid, police said on Thursday.

Mhem Y, 41, has been holed up in his Bavel district home since Tuesday, when a lit cigarette butt he allegedly threw into a rice field sparked a blaze that engulfed 174 hectares of rice, police and witnesses said. Attempts by villagers to extinguish the blaze were un­successful.

“Mhem Y ran away with his two cows and a cart when he could not stop the fire. He was worried villagers would be angry at him so he is hiding in his house,” Prek Kpous village police Chief Ou Phoeung said Thursday.

Ou Phoeung said 56 families have surrounded Mhem Y’s house and are demanding 3,400 sacks of rice in compensation for the blaze. Ou Phoeung said he believed Mhem Y’s own rice harvest was insufficient in size to fully compensate the victims.

“I am collecting information and will confer with my superiors to solve this problem,” Ou Phoeung said, adding, “Mhem Y has to pay for the victims’ rice. If not, he will be punished in jail.”

In an unrelated incident, 25 hec­tares of rice were set ablaze Tuesday in Thmar Koul district’s O Taki commune, said district Governor Sam Neng.

“I am telling farmers to hurry the harvest of their rice to prevent further fires,” Sam Neng said. “I also asked all the farmers to help extinguish fires when they oc­cur,” he said.

Sam Neng said that the blazes were caused by workers flicking cigarette butts into dry rice fields and that two men had already been arrested and are awaiting questioning over the incidents.


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