Prosecutor Releases Protester In Pheapimex Land Dispute

The prosecutor in Pursat pro­vince yesterday released a village representative involved in a land dispute after he was arrested by Krakor district police for leading a protest on Saturday to prevent a company from bulldozing a forest the villagers claim rested on their land, a court official said.

According to villager Sok Cham­reoun, 40, a representative for the conglomerate Pheapimex asked Krakor district police to arrest Chem Dara, who led 30 other villagers from Ansar Cham­bak commune to prevent the clearing of forestland that they claimed the government had granted to them a month ago.

The company “said Mr Dara stopped their bulldozer, but we did it without violence and I also participated,” Mr Chamreoun said. “We staged this protest to find out where the frontier of our community forest is.”

Ty Kem Tok, the company representative who reportedly asked the police to arrest Mr Dara, could not be reached.

Pheapimex has since 1997 held a 316,000-hectare land concession stretching through several pro­vinces and continues to clear the land for industrial agriculture operations. Tensions between locals and Pheapimex flared in December as villagers blocked a road to protest the clearance of land they claimed was theirs.

In January, provincial authorities and the company agreed to earmark 6,700 hectares of land inside the concession for use as a community forest.

Krakor district governor Tim Sarin declined to say if the order for the arrest came from the district police via a company official but said local authorities were working with the villagers and the company to determine the boundary of the Pheapimex concession.

District police could not be reached.

Yu Yeuny, acting provincial prosecutor, said he had received a complaint from the company alleging that Mr Dara was leading a demonstration and instigating a dispute.

“I released him this morning because there is no offense or accusation,” he said, declining to comment further.


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