A small group of Pursat province villagers who live near the Thai border are traveling to Phnom Penh to seek the intervention of Prime Minister Hun Sen after accusing local officials of intimidation in a land dispute, villagers said yesterday.
Border and military police officers “verbally threatened the lives” of villagers who protested a 2,250-hectare concession granted to private firm MDS, villager representative By Born said. Mr Born added that villagers were traveling in separate groups at different times for fear of intimidation.
“We could not come in a big group at one time because we were afraid of being stopped and of having our documents and complaints confiscated,” Mr Born said.
The villagers, who want the concession to be relocated, said they planned to submit complaints today to the premier’s Cabinet, the National Assembly, the Anticorruption Institution, and the ministries of Justice, Agriculture and Environment.
“Authorities colluded together to sell our land to the firm,” claimed Siek Sareth, adding that villager farmland was being cleared by the firm.
Kuoy Saroeun, commander of border police battalion 825, denied the allegations, saying, “There is not even one land protester whose life had been threatened.”
“The company is here for development, which is why we need to protect them. Especially, our forces never intimidate villagers,” he said. “The company is allowed to dig and clear the area just for building the concession demarcation.”
MDS Director Keo Chanthan said his company was leasing the land for a development that includes houses and a casino. He denied demolishing farmland.
“Our company is here to help buy local villagers’ agricultural crops and to build a market for them,” Mr Chanthan said. “We never touch or demolish local people’s farmland.”
Thma Da chief Prom Ngun said a committee had been created by the provincial government to determine “how many hectares of farmland legally owned by villagers is affected by or overlaps with the concession zone.”