Official To Seek ‘Ringleaders’ in Land Grabs

Russei Keo District Governor Khlaing Huot said Monday that he plans to file a complaint with Phnom Penh Municipal Court to seek “ringleaders” whom he ac­cused of inciting more than 500 families to grab land in the district’s Phnom Penh Thmei commune.

Police and military police carrying automatic rifles and electric batons looked on Friday as hundreds of homes in the commune were flattened by bulldozers and an excavator.

Khlaing Huot has accused the evicted villagers of living unlawfully on the site for about two months. Several villagers said they had been there since May.

“I received strong support from local people and other government officials to file a complaint with Phnom Penh Municipal Court to arrest ringleaders, otherwise those ringleaders will incite other villagers to grab land,” Kh­laing Huot said.

He made the threat after villagers in the commune brandish­ed sticks and burned tires to ward off about 30 military police and district police officials who at­tempted to evict more families from the disputed land on Mon­day, villagers and officials said.

The villagers had moved back onto the land over the weekend.

“I have ordered my officials to conduct a serious investigation of this matter to find the real ringleaders,” Khlaing Huot said. “Those ringleaders are well-organized to buy land.”

Keo Neam, who represents the nine families that have reportedly been awarded land by the Coun­cil of Ministers, said the families are preparing a similar complaint.

She said the 545 families facing eviction were cheated into buying land in the commune, and ac­cused local villager Pich Chan­dara and his wife Vy, whose second name she could not recall, of be­ing among the ringleaders.

“We are ordinary people who have been farming on the land since 1979. We are not government officials or rich people so we really need that land back for farming,” Keo Neam said.

Pich Chan­dara, 33, said monday that he had been living on the land since 1997. He said he did not instigate others to grab the land.

“I am not a ringleader. I am a vic­tim of disputed land like other villagers,” he said.


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