A villager involved in a dispute over 684 hectares of land with Pailin provincial governor Y Chhien claimed Thursday that in 1999 Mr. Chhien and a senior military officer distributed axes and farm tools to the families now on the land.
Pailin Provincial Court on Wednesday charged four villagers with infringing on public property for cultivating the land and refusing to leave when told by authorities. The villagers were among 147 families evicted from the land on orders given by Mr. Chhien early last month.
Mr. Chhien at the time described the plot as “my land,” but later corrected himself to say that the land was partly state-owned and partly owned by a company.
Thong Thorn, a representative of the families, said Thursday that the land under dispute was settled by the families 15 years ago with the express permission of authorities, including Mr. Chhien himself.
Mr. Thorn said that Mr. Chhien and Hing Bun Heang, the commander of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit and a deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, in 1999 handed the land over to the mostly former Khmer Rouge families.
“Mr. Hing Bun Heang came to meet us in the year 1999 and said: ‘Samdech Hun Sen is busy, so allow me to meet all of you,’ and he distributed machetes and axes to cut away the forest and clear the land for the cultivation of rice and crops,” Mr. Thorn said.
Former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary led the rebel forces in Pailin province to join the Phnom Penh government in 1996.
Mr. Chhien, Pol Pot’s chief bodyguard, later became governor.
Vor Roum, the deputy chief of Stung Trang commune in Pailin province, corroborated Mr. Thorn’s account. He said General Bun Heang had in the name of Mr. Hun Sen distributed the tools as well as 50 kg of rice to each of the more than 700 families cultivating the land at the time.
“His Excellencies Hing Bun Heang and Y Chhien really visited villagers and distributed machetes and axes to the families, and instructed them to cut the forest and clear the land for cultivation,” he said.
Mr. Roum said that Mr. Chhien had in the late 1990s instructed officials to divide unused land in Pailin for former Khmer Rouge fighters.
He said evictions came after some villagers cleared land outside their allotted plots and tried to sell it.
“We ordered those people to leave the land because they cleared more land to extend their farms…for sale to someone else,” he said.
Gen. Bun Heang said that he could neither confirm nor deny the account of the land transfer given by Mr. Thorn and Mr. Roum.
“I cannot remember because it was such a long time ago,” he said.
Mr. Chhien flatly denied the account of the transfer.
“I have never been to visit those villagers with His Excellency Hing Bun Heang to distribute gifts,” he said.