Villager Arrested Over Recent KDC Land Dispute Clashes

A 36-year-old villager was arrested at his home in Kompong Chhnang province Monday on allegations of destroying public property and causing injuries during one of several recent clashes in a long-running land dispute between farmers and the powerfully connected KDC International.

Villagers say KDC, a firm owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem, illegally grabbed their land in 2002 and took the case to court in 2007. The arrest of Mang Yav in Kompong Tralach district Monday brings to four the number of people who have been arrested for their efforts to stop the company from developing on the disputed land.

“Today, provincial police officials surrounded the house and arrested him for alleged property destruction and injuries,” said Ta Ches commune police chief Chup Chanthoeun. He said that KDC workers, who have repeatedly clashed with villagers in the past two weeks, filed a complaint against Mr. Yav.

About 10 workers were injured in clashes last week after villagers tried to stop them from proceeding with the construction of a wall demarcating the disputed site, according to KDC worker Sin Khim.

Snguong Nhoeun, a Lor Peang villager, said the guards were provoking the violence.

“These cruel people, most of them don’t have land here,” Mr. Khim said about the guards. “They only move to violently attack us when civil society or the U.N. is present.”

The U.N. has also found itself facing claims of incitement in local Khmer-language newspapers for its alleged role in the clashes.

Last week, the Koh Santepheap newspaper and Deum Ampil news website reported that NGO workers in a U.N. car were behind the villagers’ violence.

“Ten KDC workers were injured by a handful of ambitious Lor Peang villagers who had been incited by one NGO driving a U.N. car,” Koh Santepheap reported on Thursday.

Deum Ampil reported on Friday that there were suspicions that a group of foreigners driving a U.N. car had “encouraged” the villagers to clash with the workers.

In an email, Wan Hea-Lee, representative of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, said monitors observed the villagers attempting to destroy part of the wall, but said workers used their slingshots first.

“We regret that those media organizations did not seek clarification from us before publishing them,” she wrote in an email.

“We hope that such stories will not detract attention from the true issue at hand, which is the urgent need to find a fair solution to this 12-year-old dispute between the villagers and KDC International.”

(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers and Sun Heng)

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