More than 60 police and military police informed 19 families farming on a plot of land in Pailin province’s Sala Krao district on Saturday that they would have to move as they were growing crops on state land.
However, Prak Sophima, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said she believed Provincial Governor Y Chhien—a former Khmer Rouge division commander—was trying to push villagers out and that a company owned by his wife, CPP lawmaker Ban Sreymom, would farm cassava on the 95 hectares instead.
“I cleared this land to plant cassava five years ago, but those people came and encroached on my land,” Mr. Chhien said by telephone Sunday. He then corrected himself, saying that in fact the 95 hectares was not his land but state land.
“Some of the land belongs to the state and some belongs to a company,” he clarified. Asked the name of the company or whether it belongs to his wife, the governor hung up.
Ms. Sophima of Adhoc said the 19 families had been cultivating the land since 1999 with permission from authorities.
“We investigated and found the authorities allowed villagers to clear the land and instructed them to grow rice and corn,” she said.
Ms. Sophima said her investigation had also revealed that a company owned by Ms. Sreymom was cultivating cassava on the land.
Chea Chandin, provincial deputy police chief, confirmed that villagers had been told to move after some of the families—who had always resided in the nearby village but farmed on the land—started constructing makeshift houses on the plantation.
“We sent more than 60 police and military police there on Saturday morning to inform people they have to move as they are living illegally,” he said.
“We now have about 10 police and military police stationed there to prevent people from building more houses,” he added.
Sala Krao deputy commune chief Vor Roum said that he feared a violent outcome if the affected villagers refused to leave the area.
“I told the villagers to leave as I’m worried there could be violence when the provincial authorities take action,” he said, denying that Ms. Sreymom owned the company.