Villagers detained in lengthy land dispute

Source: Khmer Times

Soch Mao and Em Thon were among a group of wanted locals. Supplied

Two villagers have been charged with inciting locals to encroach on state land controlled by a private investment company in Tbong Khmum province.
The men were charged in court yesterday and detained for their part in a land dispute that has been rumbling on for more than two decades.
Provincial court prosecutor Chheng Cheang said Soch Mao and Em Thon were among a group of locals wanted on arrest warrants for inciting villagers to take back farmland now controlled by the Sopheak Nika Investment company.
Hak Sok Makara, the provincial governor, last month accused villagers of illegally grabbing the land in Kor commune when 300 protesters tried to demarcate 300 hectares of land they claim belongs to them.
He accused locals from seven villages of cutting down rubber plantations grown by the investment company.
Mr. Cheang declined to comment on how many of the protesters would be summoned to court, saying the case is still being investigated.
“I cannot answer that yet,” he said.
Neang Savath, a coordinator for the provincial branch of rights group Adhoc, said the court has so far issued warrants for five or six locals accused of encroachment.
“The villagers say they had farmed on the land for more than 20 years,” Mr. Savath said. “But the state conceded the land to the investment company without their agreement.
“The authorities should not be treating people so harshly. We need to talk to the villagers, find out who does and doesn’t have land, and distribute land to the poor.
“We don’t support land grabbing, but these people are the children and grandchildren of the state.”

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