The Cambodian Labour Confederation has reported that two people were arrested during a protest against land demarcation in Preah Sihanouk province’s Kbal Chhay area yesterday.
CLC provincial coordinator An Rama yesterday said provincial police came with tractors to mark the land in order to set boundaries in the Kbal Chhay protected area, a crucial source of clean water for residents living in and nearby the area.
Mr Rama said bringing in tractors and other machineries to mark the land prompted residents to protest.
He noted that during the height of the protest shots were fired, but no one was injured.
He said in order to reduce tensions, CLC worker Tep Sopha and resident Chhay Roth attempted to negotiate with police. However, Mr Sopha and Mr Roth were instead detained.
“This morning the authorities went to the area and residents gathered to ask them to stop demarcating land boundaries,” Mr Rama said. “They wanted to find a solution first because it affects their land.”
“However, the authorities did not listen to the resident and our union worker and instead had them detained,” he added. “They did not use violence, nor did they incite residents to protest. They were arrested anyway.”
Sam Sarath, the wife of Mr Roth, yesterday said her husband did nothing to block the authorities from marking the land, noting that he only wanted to negotiate.
“My husband wasn’t even part of the protest. He was returning home after drinking coffee and saw the residents protesting,” Ms Sarath said. “He went to talk to the authorities and then he was arrested. My husband doesn’t have a history of protesting.”
She noted that more than 200 families in the area have land disputes with the authorities.
Provincial Governor Yun Min recently warned that legal action will be taken against those who encroach Kbal Chhay area’s land.
Last week, Land Management Minister Chea Sophara issued a statement backing Mr Min’s warning, saying that the issuance of land titles is only permitted when there is a decision made by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Provincial Hall spokesman Or Saroeun yesterday said the men were arrested because they attempted to discourage the authorities from demarcating land.
“The detention took place because they did not obey the law and provincial instructions that say Kbal Chhay area is state land not to be encroached,” Mr Saroeun said. “We have seen residents buy and sell land amongst each other and that affects the management of the state land.”
Samut Sothearith, director of the provincial environment department, said as of 5pm yesterday, the men were still being questioned at the provincial police station.
“If we find out they intend to occupy state land illegally then the case is going to be sent to court, but we don’t know yet, and that’s why we are asking them first,” Mr Sothearith said. “If they cooperate then we will follow procedure, but if they don’t and still claim the land belongs to them then we will send them to court.”
“Sub-decree 116 clearly states that this location is an indispensable source of freshwater that we use for the whole province,” he added. “It does not allow the encroachment of land by any persons.”