Dozens of indigenous Kuy villagers who gathered to meet the new deputy governor of Preah Vihear province on Monday morning, hoping to plead their case in an ongoing land dispute, were met instead by police and soldiers who drove silently by on motorbikes, witnesses said.
“They rode motorbikes—maybe 20 people,” said villager Kum Randy. “There were soldiers, police, officials from the Land Ministry. They drove past us. They saw our faces. They said nothing! They didn’t talk to us at all!”
Ms. Randy said that about 60 Kuy villagers gathered on the contested 100-hectare plot in Tbeng Meanchey district’s Brameru commune, where Ou Vutthy, the new deputy provincial governor, had promised a meeting.
He had offered to help resolve a dispute that escalated when ethnic Khmer villagers arrived on the night of September 2 and occupied land belonging to 19 Kuy families, she said.
“We waited for hours,” said Nuon Mon, another villager. “The governor himself never showed up.”
The overnight occupation was just the latest incident to afflict the Kuy community, which in 2012 saw land belonging to 367 families burned and cleared by the Chinese-owned Rui Feng company, which owns an adjacent sugarcane plantation.
Ms. Randy said that attempts to evict hers and other families still living on Rui Feng’s 8,841-hectare economic land concession have only intensified.
During the occupation this month, “some 100 people, guarded by police and soldiers” arrived and seized part of the land, she said. “They came and they began felling trees and building houses, and they divided our land—10 meters by 10 meters.”
The 19 families did not confront the occupiers and relocated to a nearby village, Ms. Randy said. Instead, they met Mr. Vutthy on September 5 at the district police station, where he promised to visit the site and resolve the dispute, she said.
Reached for comment, Mr. Vutthy hung up on a reporter.
While villagers were initially hopeful—Mr. Vutthy was recently appointed, and had expressed an interest in helping—Ms. Randy said she feared the worst.
“Why, if they were solving our land dispute, did they bring so many police officers and soldiers with so many guns?” she asked. “I think they wanted to threaten us.”
“They’ve said they’re going to give the land to the Khmer families, the people of the province,” Ms. Randy said. “The truth is, these people know nothing about the land. They have no history with it.”
“I believe that they will take the land and give it to Rui Feng,” she added.
A representative of Rui Feng declined to comment.
(Additional reporting by Kang Sothear)