Villagers in Kompong Cham province who claim a rubber plantation has encroached on their land faced off yesterday morning against armed police and soldiers attempting to stop them from farming the land, police and villagers said.
Chum Koeurn, who represents more than 400 families farming 30 hectares also claimed by the Long Sreang International rubber company in Stung Trang district, said about 20 police officers and soldiers used electric batons and fired into the air when some 200 villagers prevented them from confiscating a pair of tillers.
“When we didn’t allow those armed soldiers and police, they shot into the air twice to frighten us…and used electric batons to beat villagers,” he said. “Three of us received minor injuries.”
“This rubber plantation company is grabbing our rice fields by using armed police and soldiers to intimidate villagers and bar the legal landowners from cultivating our property,” Mr Koeurn said.
He said the villagers finally set up a makeshift roadblock to prevent the police from driving away with the tillers.
Klouk Phally, an RCAF warrant officer in Prek Kak commune assigned to guard the plantation, denied villagers’ claims that police attacked them or fired their weapons to threaten them during the standoff.
“The company has ordered me and soldiers to prevent such illegal activities as their planting on the land,” he said. “We just shot into the air twice to prevent the villagers from using violence, but there was no violence against them.”
Mr Koeurn and Mr Phally said that eventually the situation calmed down and police and villagers remained at the scene to try to negotiate a resolution.
The company’s owner, Long Sreng, said yesterday that the villagers had agreed to stop farming the disputed land for two months after a meeting with district officials in June.
“During these two months…neither the villagers nor the company were allowed to use the land,” he said. “But these villagers violated their promise.”
Mr Sreng said the government privatized the 7,300-hectare area in 2007 and insisted the disputed land was legally his.
“I did not grab the villagers’ farmland,” he said.