Villagers Clash With Police Over Land in Pursat

A Pursat province villager involved in a land dispute with a firm developing a 2,250-hectare economic land concession near the Thai border claimed that border and military police beat him yesterday after he joined other villagers trying to stop workers from clearing land.

Siek Sarith, 44, said thirty villagers yesterday tried to stop wealthy businessman Try Pheap’s MDS Company workers from using bulldozers and excavators in Veal Veng district’s Thma Da commune.

“Because the company was well protected by armed forces, our people could not stop the firm’s tractors from clearing our crops,” Mr Sarith said, adding that military and border police officers had kicked him several times during the confrontation.

“After kicking me in the chest a few times, I had my camera confiscated and it has not been returned.”

Kuoy Saroeun, commander of border police battalion 825, dismissed Mr Sarith’s allegations yesterday. “My border police and the military police did not hurt and beat him up,” he said.

“Basically, he just stood in front of the tractor and then my cops just advised him to move away and then confiscated his camera for a short period. My officials were there to prevent villagers from harming or destroying the company’s equipment.”

MDS Director Keo Chanthan said yesterday that his company would never “touch villagers’ farmland.”

“We are here to build markets for trade between the two countries, not to harm villagers’ livelihoods,” he said. “For local families who really have their farmland affected, I know the authorities are resolving a land swap for them.”

But By Born, a villager who claims his farmland was cleared by MDS staff yesterday, said he was planning on delivering a complaint from villagers to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cabinet today.

“The entire commune…is affected. We are seeking the premier’s intervention to cease the land dispute by downsizing the concession,” Mr Born said.

Soeng Senkaruna, provincial investigator for rights group Licadho, called on all parties involved in the land dispute to avoid violent confrontations.


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