People gather outside the Preah Vihear Provincial Hall yesterday afternoon to demand the release of a community representative who was picked up by the authorities and detained.
A community representative for villagers embroiled in two separate land disputes in Preah Vihear province was detained by police yesterday morning but released hours later after protesters blocked the road in front of the provincial hall with 10 two-wheeled tractors.
About 100 victims of two land disputes in the province’s Tbeng Meanchey and Rovieng districts have teamed up since December 28 to protest every day in front of the Preah Vihear Provincial Hall.
According to Lor Chan, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, 48-year-old Vong Sok Khengly, a representative for villagers in the Rovieng case, was arrested at 8am yesterday while he went to buy food at the market, but was freed at 2:15pm.
“The authorities arrested him, which is intimidation against the people who are just protesting peacefully for their rights without using axes or machetes or rifles to confront the authorities,” he said.
In reaction, protesters assembled the tractors and blocked the road. However, Preah Vihear Provincial Deputy Governor Su Serie said the authorities just detained the man to “educate him” for taking part in the protest outside the provincial hall.
“It was not an arrest, we just called him in for questioning since he disturbed officials during their meeting,” he said.
The situation de-escalated, however, after authorities promised to inspect the land dispute in Tbeng Meanchey today, pledging to look over the border and have the courts issue an order resolving the situation. Authorities have not yet addressed the land dispute in Rovieng, however.
Following the agreement, protesters left for their homes, though Adhoc’s Lor Chan said that they would resume their protests if a speedy resolution was not found.
According to San Reb, a local man who helps coordinate the villagers’ actions, the Rovieng district villagers are protesting against two companies that promised to build a road but have instead logged their forest since 2014.
Meanwhile, the villagers from Tbeng Meanchey district are protesting two Chinese companies, Lan Feng and Rui Feng, for allegedly clearing their lands.
Nuon Mun, who lives in Tbeng Meanchey’s Brame commune, said the villagers had kept urging authorities to solve the land dispute without success, characterising Sok Khengly’s brief arrest as “unjust”.
“He had been protesting since the 28th [of December], but the provincial authorities arrested him at the market after I sent him there to buy some food,” she said.