June 9, 2017

Villagers in court over land protests

Villagers involved in a land dispute with a development company have gathered to support three of their representatives, who were yesterday interrogated by Svay Rieng provincial court.

The court last month summoned eight members from a group of 200 villagers who occupied land at the centre of the dispute.

The four men and four women were accused of illegally grabbing state land in a stand-off with police that lasted three hours.

The group occupied the land because they are angry with the company NK Venture, which was granted government permission to build a sugar plantation on 670 hectares of local land in 2010, but the plot remains empty.

A group of 100 villagers from Ampil commune in Romeas Hek district turned out in solidarity for three of the accused land grabbers, farmers Chea Soeun, Thoeum Veng and Prum Sot.

Mom Sina, 55, the wife of Mr Veng, said her husband and villagers did nothing wrong.

“We just need land for farming and the company is doing nothing with the land. We are so poor. We did not come to steal, we just came to farm the free land,” she said.

Last month, more than 500 villagers protested at Ampil commune hall, demanding their land back from the company.

Romeas Hek district police chief Sam Samol said the villagers broke the law when they tried to farm the land involved in the dispute. “The company is actually using the land to farm, contrary to what villagers claim,” he said.

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