About 100 villagers in a land dispute with a company owned by a prominent ruling-party politician in Koh Kong province Monday attempted to block traffic on the Koh Kong Bridge, which runs between Cambodia and Thailand, to protest the recent imprisonment of one of their representatives.
In August, the Koh Kong Provincial Court summoned four representatives of the 135 families in Kiri Sakor district for questioning after CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat filed a complaint accusing them of stealing and damaging tools from his Koh Kong SEZ Co.
At the time, the villagers said they had been trying to halt the construction of a concrete wall around part of a roughly 2,000-hectare tract of land the families say they have been farming since the late 1990s.
On October 27, Investigating Judge Kham Sophary called one of the representatives, Phorn Nol, back to court, charged him with aggravated theft and placed him in pretrial detention at the Koh Kong Provincial Prison.
Long Lun, Mr. Nol’s lawyer, said Monday that his client did take the tools, but that this should not be considered stealing, as they were not used for personal gain.
“We cannot accept the court’s charge,” Mr. Lun said, adding that the tools are currently being kept at the home of a deputy village chief.
Ruot Sophal, another of the villagers named by Mr. Yong Phat, said Monday that the protesters demonstrated in front of provincial hall and the provincial court before heading to the bridge—which was financed by the senator—at about 3 p.m.
“We tried to block the bridge, but we were prevented by police and military police,” Mr. Sophal said.
“[Mr. Yong Phat’s] company started to build a wall [on] our farmland without negotiating with or compensating us,” he said.
Mr. Yong Phat said Monday that the government granted him the 2,200 hectares to develop a charcoal factory and seaport, adding that the villagers living there do not have land titles.
“It’s nothing,” Mr. Yong Phat said of the dispute. “I want to develop this area to create jobs for villagers.”