Oddar Meanchey police have arrested at least seven residents after a violent brawl that involved the brandishing of sticks and knives between villagers and authorities over disputed land on Tuesday.
Videos posted to Facebook earlier this week show village residents in Oddar Meanchey’s Trapaing Prasat commune carrying knives and long sticks as they confronted police officials armed with guns near a plantation that belongs to the Sok Samnang company.
Trapaing Prasat district police chief Ouch Mao said authorities had arrested seven people after a lawsuit was filed by the company against the people for encroaching on their land. He denied that officers had used force, and personnel were in the area to investigate a motorcycle theft reported by the company.
But villagers then appeared with knives and axes, and the police had to retreat without anyone getting injured, Mao said.
“The subsequent arrests were made by the court’s verdict, and the court issued a series of arrest warrants for the people because they encroached on the land of the Sok Samnang company at the instigation of the ringleader,” he said.
According to rights group Licadho, Sok Samnang has a 1,865-hectare rubber plantation in eastern Oddar Meanchey. The economic land concession was granted to the company in 2012.
Srey Naren, an Oddar Meanchey officer for rights group Adhoc who is investigating the case, said there could be more violence if authorities do not expedite the settlement. He said the seven had been arrested separately and taken to court.
He called for a peaceful settlement to the case, claiming that the residents had been deceived by brokers to live on the company’s land.
“I invoke the authorities to not use violence against citizens, resolve this peacefully,” Naren said. “If the solution is solved by violence, it will not be good and neither side will be satisfied which will lead to injustice.”
One of the village residents, Plan Ty, said her family had been living and growing crops on disputed land since 2013 and had not faced any trouble with the authorities. But at the beginning of 2022, the authorities and a representative of the Sok Samnang rubber plantation company came to claim the land.
She said around 370 families had around 2-5 hectare plots on the land, which they used for agriculture.
“The boss of the company came to claim that it is his land. He came to create the issue, he had a gun, he even had a sword, handcuffs, an ax,” she said.