Seventy villagers from Kompong Chhnang province who protested in front of the National Assembly over the weekend were forced to return home, human rights officials said Sunday.
About 50 officials forced the villagers into a truck bound for O’Tanih village in Rolea Ba’ier district, said Houn Vandara, a Licadho investigator in Phnom Penh who witnessed the incident.
After being made to return, the villagers went into hiding, fearing arrest by police, Sao Phearak, another Licadho investigator, said Sunday.
“They do not dare stay in the their own homes,” he said. “But I told them not to worry…. I will intervene if you are arrested.”
Kompong Chhnang province Deputy Governor Pav Amphan, who was present as the villagers were pressured into the truck, also said the villagers have no reason for concern.
“They are not guilty of anything, and we are not going to arrest them,” he said Sunday. “Please return to your homes and farms,” he told them.
The villagers originally went to the National Assembly because they believed police were threatening to arrest them for protesting in late June against alleged land-grabbing. Villagers accused commune leaders of selling 120 hectares of their land without their permission to a private company that planned to plant acacia trees on the land.
They allege officials forged their thumbprints on sales documents.
Two protesters, Sem Kim Sear, 35, and Mao Chorn, 56, were arrested on June 28 on charges of destroying private property, villagers said.
Since then, police have said they are going to arrest other protesters on charges of destroying private property, O’Tanih villager Nuon Vannak said Thursday in front of the National Assembly.
Other villagers were strident in their criticism of local authorities.
“I think they are more cruel than the Khmer Rouge,” villager Kem Sokha said Thursday in front of the National Assembly. “We have done nothing wrong, but two villagers are in jail and others are being hunted.”