Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities arrested four people for alleged illegal construction of huts within an area of Stung Hav district owned by the company that runs the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone.
Kheang Phearum, spokesperson for Preah Sihanouk provincial administration, said a group of officials visited a site in Stung Hav district on Tuesday and ordered residents to dismantle huts that they constructed on land allegedly owned by the SSEZ company.
The visit resulted in the arrest of four people — Tep Sara, Chhin Bouni, Seng Makara and Khuon Dara — for alleged encroachment.
“In this operation, some people volunteered to return the land to the owner and make a contract to leave the location,” he said. “Meanwhile, some villagers armed with rubber bands, stones and Molotov cocktails protested until they used violence against the provincial joint task force, which led to the arrest of four suspects for interrogation at the base of Stung Hav Military Police.”
Phearum claimed that the four people confessed that they were part of a scheme by land brokers to trick people into selling and redistributing land that was owned by someone else.
“At the same time, the four suspects admitted their guilt and called on other residents who had been deceived by the brokers to voluntarily dismantle their huts, leave the private land and follow provincial authorities’ instructions to avoid legal action,” Phearum said.
He added that people had started building illegal constructions early this year, and authorities warned residents to dismantle the huts in late April.
The SSEZ is based in Preah Sihanouk’s Prey Nob district, but a statement from provincial authorities indicated the Stung Hav district land was owned by the zone’s parent company.
Prime Minister Hun Sen referenced the land conflict on Wednesday in a speech during a graduation ceremony, urging whoever was masterminding the land brokerage scheme in Stung Hav district to come out.
“You must take responsibility for gathering the people to encroach on the land of the state, the people are allowed to go home, but the mastermind of the movement must be held responsible,” he said. “Do not wonder [what happens] when it reaches to the Prime Minister, you will not be detained, but please be responsible for what you have done.”
According to the Commerce Ministry’s business registry, Sihanoukville Special Economy Zone Co. Ltd. is directed by one of the country’s most powerful couples — Pheapimex tycoon Choeng Sopheap and CPP senator Lao Meng Khin — as well as seven Chinese nationals. At least five of the seven Chinese directors are associated with Hongdou Group, a Wuxi-based conglomerate with divisions in apparel, tires, pharmaceuticals and real estate.
According to the letter from the province on August 12, the provincial government created a working group to handle this and other land conflicts.
Both Stung Hav district governor Chhay Sokunda and district police chief Ros Py referred the case to Phearum for comment.