Military police said they arrested two men on Tuesday afternoon in a Kampot commune that saw violent evictions and protests last week—and where authorities are reportedly going door-to-door to find villagers involved—but maintained the arrests were unrelated to the clash.
Hem Chandara, deputy provincial military police commander, said his officers arrested the two men in Chhuk district’s Techo Aphivat commune, where three men were arrested on Friday during a clash between authorities and villagers over an economic land concession (ELC). According to Mr. Chandara, however, the cases are not linked.
“We arrested the pair because they used an excavator to clear state land,” he said on Wednesday, adding that the arrests were made following orders from provincial court prosecutor Khan Chansophal, after a complaint by the province’s head of the forestry cantonment, Chuon Sara.
Bo Sambath, a member of one of the 300 families or so involved in the land dispute, said his son-in-law, Rith Sopheak, was arrested in the commune on Tuesday afternoon.
“Villagers telephoned me and said that a group of 20 military police and soldiers grabbed Sopheak and handcuffed him, then he was brought to a pickup truck and driven away,” Mr. Sambath said.
Mr. Sambath added that he had been told by villagers that a group of about 25 military police and soldiers on Wednesday went door-to-door to search for the perpetrators of Friday’s unrest.
He said he was currently in hiding, like many of the men from the families, while the women remained near the ELC.
District governor Kheav Rithy Phoan confirmed that one person was arrested on Tuesday afternoon near the ELC.
Violence erupted in the commune on Friday after military police and private security guards forcibly burned down 42 homes that are said to have encroached on the ELC.
Three men were charged with inciting violence during a protest by the villagers, with officials saying three cars were destroyed and a security guard injured.
Chan Sothea, an oknha and board member of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, said on Wednesday that she was granted 10,000 hectares of land in the commune in 2010 for First Biotech Investment (Cambodia), a company she chairs. But it now only has 3,000 hectares left after some was given to families affected by the concession, Ms. Sothea said.
Ms. Sothea is also listed on the Commerce Ministry website as a board member of World Tristar Investment, a second ELC of 9,800 hectares located directly south of First Biotech’s concession. She said on Wednesday the Tristar concession was not part of her company.
Ms. Sothea said the villagers protesting had only recently moved to the land and came from a variety of provinces, though she said she was sick and had not been to the site in several months.
“But provincial authorities told me those people were savage, because they always threaten to kill my workers with machetes and axes when they would ask them to leave the land,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Byrne)