Three Arrested in Land Dispute With Governor

Villagers involved in a long-running land dispute with a company alleged to be owned by Pailin Governor Y Chhien were arrested Monday for failing to heed an order from Mr. Chhien to vacate the disputed land, rights workers said.

Pich Sothea, 47, Orm Sam Ath, 44, and Orm Sam Ol, 31, were arrested at their homes in Sala Krao district’s Stung Trang commune. Another four villagers involved in the dispute and named in an arrest warrant have fled, said Chan Soveth, deputy head of monitoring at rights group Adhoc.

“The police are angry with their repeated refusal to honor police warrants,” he said. “That’s why the police arrested and detained them.”

Mr. Soveth said that Mr. Sothea represented 58 families in one village involved in the dispute, while Ms. Sam Ath and Ms. Sam Ol represent another 19.

At the beginning of March, Sala Krao district deputy governor Vor Roum said he had received orders from Mr. Chhien to clear the families from the land by March 15. Mr. Chhien had previously described the plot as “my land” before correcting himself to say it was partly state-owned and partly owned by a company.

The families, which are mostly composed of former Khmer Rouge fighters, have refused to leave and say they have cultivated crops on the land with the approval of provincial authorities since 1999.

Mr. Chhien, who served as Pol Pot’s chief bodyguard, could not be reached for comment Monday. His deputy, Koeut Sothea, said he heard about the arrests, but referred further questions to Pailin police chief Chea Chandin, who could not be reached.

“I heard that was done because these people have repeatedly refused to appear on police summons for questioning,” Mr. Sothea said.

The deputy governor said earlier this month that the land belongs to Mr. Chhien.

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