The wife of an RCAF colonel arrested Saturday for allegedly grabbing state land protested her husband’s innocence Monday, saying the couple purchased the property through legal means.
The Saturday arrest of RCAF Colonel Te Haing, a CPP official who authorities say has refused to relinquish land in Banteay Meanchey province that rightfully belongs to the state, marks the first arrest since Prime Minister Hun Sen declared “war” on land grabbers March 5.
“My husband did not steal anyone’s land,” Chok Touk, Te Haing’s wife, said by telephone. “He bought the land from the people.” She added that she was unclear as to what had prompted the arrest.
Te Haing is a border protection official who also goes by the title of okhna, which is bestowed upon prominent businessmen.
In May 2006, provincial authorities confiscated about 1,700 hectares of land in Svay Chek district’s Slakram commune from a consortium of owners including Te Haing, district governor Soeung Phon said.
“Since then, he has been prohibited from doing anything on the land because it belongs to the state,” Soeung Phon said. But Te Haing has continued to plant cassava on the land even though he does not have proper land titles, he added.
Chok Touk said she and her husband only claim 400 hectares as their own; the rest, she said, is divided among 17 other landowners.
She added that they have been planting potatoes and acacia trees on their property since 2004, and that earlier this month, provincial authorities told them they could continue to develop the land as long as they did not clear any forest.
“They were very happy when I talked with them,” she said. “Why do they now arrest my husband?”
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Prosecutor Ouk Savouth said that the case is being investigated, but refused to disclose where Te Haing is being detained.
In his speech March 5, Hun Sen said CPP officials who had grabbed state land had a week to hand it over or face dismissal.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Monday that a military general had handed over hundreds of hectares in Koh Kong province, and that a police general from the Interior Ministry had handed over “many hundreds” of hectares in Mondolkiri province. He declined to identify either general.
Other investigations are ongoing, Cheam Yeap added, though he declined to give details.