Villagers Claim Three Protesters Injured by Police in Svay Rieng

About 100 villagers in Svay Rieng province protested on Friday as a local company cleared land for rubber plantations, leading to a clash with about 50 police officers, villagers and a rights group representative said yesterday.

A villager who saw his land cleared and who identified himself only as Sam An, said yesterday that about 10 bulldozers belonging to An Mardy Company were clearing fields, affecting land occupied by about 60 families in Romeas Hek district’s Tros commune.

“We don’t know where we go for help, so we just weep helplessly,” Mr Sam An said, adding that his 3-hectare plot for cassava was bulldozed and 200 additional hec­tares in the area were to be cleared.

Mr Sam An said three of the protesters were injured at the hands of police.

“Three villagers suffered injuries because the police pushed them against the ground while they tried to stop the bulldozers,” he said.

Hen Sokhun, deputy governor of Romeas Hek district, denied there had been a clash, saying the police were there only to protect villagers.

“Our authorities did not use violence against the villagers. We just pulled them out of the way of bulldozers,” Mr Sokhun said, acknowledging that one villager fainted.

A representative for An Mardy could not be reached.

Mr Sokhun said An Mardy was granted a 3,960-hectare economic land concession to grow rubber in Romeas Hek district in 2007. He said villagers have encroached upon 500 hectares of the concession since then.

Chan Soveth, chief of Adhoc’s human rights monitoring program, said his organization would begin an investigation into the dispute today to determine how many villagers were affected by the land clearing. He said villagers should be offered fair compensation so that they could develop good living conditions.

“The impoverished farmers suffer again and again because they are not fairly compensated,” Mr Soveth said.

According to Adhoc, the number of land disputes in Cambodia concerning more than 20 families increased from 150 in 2009 to more than 200 last year.

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