A Kompong Speu province land dispute heated up Saturday after police arrested a village leader accused by You Ay, secretary of state for the Ministry of Women’s and Veterans Affairs, of plotting to grab hundreds of hectares land, officials said Sunday.
Provincial police arrested Seng Sarath, 27, two months after the court ordered his arrest, along with two others, for injuring guards taking care of You Ay’s land in Phnom Sruoch district, Deputy Provincial Police Chief Chea Vuth said.
At noon Saturday, about 100 angry villagers, armed with sticks and knives, responded by kidnapping Phnom Sruoch District Deputy Police Chief Touch Toun, according to Pich Chantha, deputy district governor.
They took Touch Toun to district police headquarters, where they demanded Seng Sarath’s release, Pich Chantha said.
But eventually police dispersed the villagers and freed the deputy police chief, Chea Vuth said.
“We shot a few bullets into the air to disperse them,” he said.
You Ay said Thursday she filed a lawsuit earlier this year accusing 306 families of grabbing her land, which is part of 1,000 hectares belonging to an investment group for whom the CPP official is the representative and primary landholder.
Villagers said late last month that You Ay forced residents to sell their land at a low price and bulldozed the land of those who would not sell.
You Ay charges that the villagers, especially the three men whose arrests have been ordered, are violent and anarchic land grabbers. “I am the double victim,” she said. “They sold this land already to me; now, they say they sold it cheap and want to take it back.”
She said Seng Borey, the brother of Seng Sarath, sold her land but then refused to move. The two brothers encouraged others to move onto her land so that they could gain possession and sell it when prices appreciate, she said.
Newer residents, however, denied the brothers had urged them to come, saying they moved from other provinces, including Kompong Thom, Kompong Cham and Svay Rieng, where they had no land and no means to a living.
You Ay said human rights NGOs Licadho and Adhoc investigated the dispute and declared her the victim, but representatives from both organizations denied making any such conclusions on Thursday.
Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, said the case is very complex.
“On one hand, yes, she did buy land and so it belongs to her,” Pilorge said. “However, it appears that she convinced villagers to sell at below market value, to her advantage. And some of the land is on protected areas so it never should have been bought.”