Villagers in Land Dispute Detain Workers, Confiscate Equipment

Villagers involved in a land dispute in Battambang province on Monday temporarily detained six men working for an agribusiness firm who were preparing the disputed land to be cleared, residents and police said.

The six workers were using mine detectors to check for unexploded ordnance in the area when more than 100 residents of Thma Puok district’s Banteay Chhmar commune surrounded them, briefly detained them and confiscated their equipment, according to community representative Pen Sophon.

Mr. Sophon said the villagers have been involved in a land dispute with the Leang Bou company since 2008, when it was granted a concession to 1,700 hectares of land that more than 500 families have farmed since 2000.

He said that part of the disputed land had already been cleared by bulldozers last month after workers made sure the area was clear of mines.

“This is why we protested and briefly held the six workers and confiscated their mine detectors,” he said, adding that the residents released the workers after making them promise to stop searching for mines.

Thma Puok district police chief Yort Rai confirmed that Leang Bou company owned the land, but said he could not provide details about the company or the concession.

Police “educated” the residents who detained the workers, he said.

“We educated the villagers who have claimed and used the disputed land to not use any violence or harm the lives of the company’s staff,” Mr. Rai said.

Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that the company had not offered any compensation to villagers who would lose their farmland to the concession.

“This land conflict with Leang Bou company has become worse since there is no solution for the affected villagers,” Mr. Chankea said.

District governor Blek Vary said that a committee including local authorities, the Forestry Administration, and the provincial departments of land management and environment were working on brokering a compromise between villagers and Leang Bou.

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