Villagers Take Officials Hostage in Land Dispute

More than 600 axe-wielding villagers from Takeo province de­tained six government officials and one Kampot province police officer for three hours Thursday to protest the measurement of a disputed tract of land, officials said.

The detained officials were part of a 20-person Ministry of Agri­cul­ture team sent to demarcate an economic land concession in Kampot province that lies along the border with Takeo province, said Cheat Neang, chief of Takeo province’s Tra­paing Kranhoung commune.

According to an Aug 5 letter from the Council of Ministers, the gov­ernment granted 7,918 hec­tares of land in Kampot province to South Korean firm GS Global Bio Co Ltd to grow castor plants.

But according to Cheat Neang, the land in question has been claimed by authorities and residents in both Kampot’s Chumkiri dis­trict and Takeo’s Tram Kak district. He said Takeo residents occupy 70 percent of the land in question.

“My people always support government project for development,” Cheat Neang said. “But those officials sprayed the spray paint can on the land located in my commune,” he said, adding that the furious villagers confiscated the group’s cameras, land demarcation spray cans and land measurement equipment.

Thong Tha, police chief for Kampot’s Sre Cheng commune, said no arrests were made following the detention of the officials and the Kampot police officer.

The seven detainees were re­leased unharmed after Chumkiri and Tram Kak district authorities asked the officials to stop demarcating the land until the conclusion of a study to determine on which side of the provincial border the territory is located, he said.

He added, however, that he was positive the land is entirely in Kampot province.

But an investigation conducted by local rights group Adhoc has determined that the land is “definitely” located in Takeo province and is being farmed by more than 1,800 families in Tram Kak district, Prak Saran, Adhoc’s Takeo provincial coordinator, said by Thursday.

“Villagers have legal rights to own the land because they have been farming and living on the land with land certificates issued by the Tram Kak district authority,” he said.

Agriculture Ministry officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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