Protest Leader Arrested in Mondolkiri After Reoccupation Attempt

An anti-eviction protester who police claim orchestrated several large-scale reoccupation attempts on a planned rubber plantation in Mondolkiri province was arrested on Monday, police and a rights monitor said.

Rith Vanny, 43, was arrested after she and about 200 former residents of Koh Nhek district’s Rayar commune erected 18 crude shelters on the plantation on Sunday and Monday, according to Sou Sovan, provincial deputy police chief.

About 500 families living on the land were evicted in 2012, three years after the Pacific Pearl Joint Stock Company was granted a 9,614-hectare economic land concession to develop a rubber plantation, which has yet to begin operations.

“We arrested the woman for questioning because she brought people from everywhere to grab the company’s land,” he said. “We arrested the leader for education and to warn other people not to grab company land.”

Former residents claim that some families moved to the area as early as 2008, although they admit that they do not have land titles. Mr. Sovan said they all arrived after the ELC had been granted.

The police official added that Ms. Vanny similarly attempted to reoccupy the land four times in the four years since the evictions and would be sent to the provincial court today after being held overnight at the provincial police headquarters.

Representatives of Pacific Pearl could not be reached for comment.

Eang Mengly, provincial monitor for rights group Adhoc, said he witnessed Ms. Vanny’s arrest.

“I saw more than 30 police and military police officers in five pickup trucks arrive, and they blocked the path of a truck transporting people attempting to return to their homes on National Road 78A,” he said.

“The authorities grabbed the woman, then pushed her into a truck and drove away,” he added.

Mr. Mengly said the families had been protesting since their eviction, submitting petitions to the National Assembly, the Interior Ministry and the Land Management Ministry—to no avail.

Em Moeun, 56, said that he had staked out a 5-hectare plot in 2009—the same year the company was granted the ELC—but said other families had arrived the year before.

“The authorities forced the people to leave the land, but we refused. That’s why they ordered police to arrest our representative and put her in jail in an attempt to break the spirit of our people,” he said.

Mr. Moeun said about 40 people had gathered outside the provincial hall on Tuesday afternoon to protest Ms. Vanny’s detention.  

“We have gathered outside the provincial hall to ask the provincial governor to release our representative because she did not commit a crime like she was accused of,” he said.

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