More than 140 ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province have claimed that two of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguards are allegedly clearing land currently being disputed at the provincial court, villagers and officials said.
Heng Neang, 32, a representative for Tampuon villagers in Lumphat district’s Batang commune, said Friday that Hin Sitha, 40, and Tva Kanoun, 40, both bodyguards from RCAF Brigade 70, have warned and threatened the villagers to stay off the disputed 200 hectares of land.
“They just restarted clearing villagers’ crops again,” he said, alleging that the same bodyguards tried to force the villagers off the land in April 2006 and again in April this year. He claimed that the villagers have farmed the land since 1979.
“Those men with guns on their hips and wearing soldiers’ uniforms showed us ID cards that identify them as Samdech Hun Sen’s bodyguards,” Heng Neang said. “They have banned villagers from planting crops and forced other people on the farms to sell their land.”
Hin Sitha confirmed Monday that he is a bodyguard for the prime minister, but said the land he was clearing belongs to Brigade 70 Colonel Bang Mony and not the villagers.
“We cannot stop our activities to clear the land for planting [a] rubber nursery because we have clear documents to prove the ownership,” Hin Sitha said. “I only control the workers working at the plantation, and I have never ever threatened the villagers.”
Bang Mony and Brigade 70 Commander Brigadier General Mao Sophan could not be reached for comment.
Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Prosecutor Mey Sokhan said by telephone Friday that he ordered the bodyguards to stop clearing the land in June after the provincial authority and police had forwarded him the villagers’ complaint.
“The villagers have never decided to sell the land,” he said. “They have never received money for selling the land.”
Mey Sokhan said that he has questioned the two bodyguards, but they denied intimidating the villagers.
“Those men denied the allegations of intimidation and claim that they are ordinary farmers as well,” he said, adding that he recently sent a letter to Defense Minister Tea Banh to inform him of the case and to ask him to confirm the identity of the two men.
Tea Banh said Monday that he had not received a letter from the Ratanakkiri court and declined to comment further on the case.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said Friday that the land dispute is one of many in Ratanakkiri and officials in the area should take the matter more seriously.