Two villagers were detained in Siem Reap province on Monday as they participated in a large protest that blocked the main road leading to Kulen Mountain, a popular tourist attraction in Banteay Srei district, villagers and an official said.
The detained villagers, Tang La, 58, and Chhun Nath, who is in his 50s, were among 500 farmers who blocked the road to draw attention to their dispute with the Forestry Administration over 350 hectares of land in the area, villagers said.
Although the conflict dates back to 2006—when the Forestry Administration took over part of a 700-hectare area where the villagers farm cassava, cashews and rice—protests broke out Sunday after officials burned down cottages the villagers had built on the disputed land, on the grounds that they were encroaching on state forest.
Following their demonstration Sunday, villagers Monday armed themselves with axes and knives and blocked the road in the afternoon, according to villager Chan Hat, 55, who said that dozens of military police then arrived to break up the protest.
“We were demanding the 700 hectares of land back for 562 families,” added Kun Eng, 52, another villager. “Now, two villagers were arrested after we argued about CPP T-shirts.”
Mr. Eng explained that military police mocked the protesters for wearing CPP T-shirts, accusing them of faking their support for the ruling party. The villagers then began to taunt the military police, which led to the two arrests, he said.
Provincial military police officials could not be reached Monday. However, Tea Kimsoth, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Siem Reap cantonment, said the two villagers had been “invited for questioning.”
“We didn’t arrest them, we just invited them for questioning over the deforestation,” he said. “They are clearing the forest that we grow.”