Officials Beaten in Fracas Over Disputed Land

A group of 50 villagers involved in a land dispute in Banteay Meanchey province’s Thma Puok district attacked three officials with sticks and ripped their shirts off on Thursday, as the officials made preparations to build an office on the disputed land.

District Governor Blek Vary said that the villagers were among 100 families who have been battling a company called Leang Bou that was granted a 1,800-hectare land concession in 2006 to establish a cassava plantation. He said provincial auth­orities had recently established a working group to adjudicate the dispute and had come to the area to build an office for themselves.

“When we came to prepare an office for the working group to work with affected families, villagers were worried because they thought we were building an office for the company,” Mr. Vary said. The confusion apparently arose because the officials were accompanied by company officials, he said.

He said the 50 villagers had started arguing with the three officials on Thursday, then began hitting them with sticks and ripping their shirts off.

“We have scheduled a meeting tomorrow between those people and the provincial governor to explain to them not to fight authorities,” he added.

Provincial Governor Kousoum Saroeuth said that two provincial environment officials had sustained minor injuries after being beaten with the sticks and had already filed a police complaint against the villagers.

“I have asked provincial police not to send the complaint to the court yet, because we will go negotiate with villagers tomorrow,” he said.

Mr. Saroeuth added that Leang Bou had recently sold the concession to another company, Serey Sophoan Meanchey.

Tinh Sopheap, 44, one of the villagers affected by the dispute, said she had occupied her 20- by 240-meter plot of land since 1991 and had later paid $325 for it to be cleared of mines.

Ms. Sopheap said villagers were dubious about the claim that the building being erected was intended for the use of government officials.

“The company is now using authorities to provide security so that they can build an office on the disputed land, but the other villagers and I objected to this,” she said.

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