Two Land Disputants Arrested in Preah Sihanouk

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Sihanoukville in October 2020. (Ananth Baliga/VOD)

Two land disputants in Preah Sihanouk have been arrested and charged with violence and obstructing public officials over a clash that took place in February last year.

The two individuals were separately arrested after an arrest warrant was issued on Sunday. A summons, signed by provincial prosecutor Huot Vichet, said defendant Soeung Phalla was a resident of Stung Hav district’s Keo Phos commune and was the target of a complaint about violence and obstruction from last year and this year.

The summons said it was based on a report from a state intelligence group tasked with researching land disputants. The group, outlined in an August police document, is headed by Dy Vichea, the National Police deputy commissioner and husband of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter Hun Mana.

Phalla’s wife, Im Meth, said on Friday she still wasn’t clear why her husband had been arrested. In February last year, Meth said, a company involved in a land dispute with local families had brought three excavators and began demolishing residents’ homes.

The residents stopped the excavators and held the machines while demanding compensation for the demolished houses, she continued, adding there were more than 60 homes in the area and the company was looking to encroach further.

“There was no violence and injuries,” she said. “I hope the court will release him because my husband did not destroy anything or use violence.”

It was difficult to visit him, as the prison was far from their residence, she added.

Meth named the company as Chhay Kimheang, and the second arrested man as San Sovireak.

Chen Phal, a nearby resident, recalled that the destruction happened about 6 a.m. and had damaged 10 to 20 houses.

He said people had strongly protested, including by burning tires. The excavators’ drivers had fled, Phal said, leaving the machines there.

The arrested men had been voted as representatives to lead negotiations in the dispute, Phal added.

Huot Vichet, spokesperson for the provincial prosecution, said the two individuals had been charged and placed in pretrial detention.

The commune has a history of disputes, including one with CPP senator and tycoon Mong Reththy. Reththy wrote on Facebook last month that, following a meeting with Land Minister Chea Sophara, he had compensated more than 100 families to end a 25-year dispute.

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