About 150 ethnic Kuoy in Preah Vihear province on Tuesday prevented police and a court prosecutor from taking back a pair of bulldozers the villagers seized last year from a Chinese-owned plantation they accuse of encroaching on their farms.
In December, about 400 villagers commandeered the bulldozers after employees of the Lan Feng plantation began using them to clear land the Kuoy say they had been farming for decades. The company was granted a concession over the land, in Tbeng Meanchey district, in 2011.
Contacted Tuesday, provincial court prosecutor Long Sitha said the villagers had seized the machinery illegally and that the court, backed up by about 30 police, was trying to help Lan Feng retrieve its property.
“I led a group of armed forces to try to take back the two bulldozers because the villagers violated the law, but they would not allow us to remove them,” he said.
Roeung Khan, one of the villagers, said that when Mr. Sitha arrived with a few Lan Feng employees and the police—who had brought a truck mounted with a water cannon—the villagers used their tractors to block the road outside the local commune office, where they have been holding the bulldozers.
“The prosecutor ordered one of the company employees to start one of the bulldozers and he tried to drive away from the area,” Ms. Khan said. “But we surrounded the bulldozer and did not let the worker drive away because they have not yet solved our problem.”
Ms. Khan said police then told the villagers that provincial governor Oum Mara wanted four of their representatives to meet him at the district police station to discuss the dispute.
“We refused to meet him because we were afraid he would arrest us,” she said, adding that about 200 villagers were to be posted around the bulldozers to guard them overnight.
Chang Sieumey, a manager and translator for Lan Feng in Preah Vihear, said she could not comment on the situation in the province as she was currently in Phnom Penh.