Forestry officials in Kampong Thom province arrested six villagers on
Wednesday, accusing them of illegal settlement and deforestation.
The five men and one woman are representatives of a
development village for disabled people in Son Touk district.
“Today, we are preparing a report seeking to prove that they
have destroyed reserved forest resources,” Kampong Thom Deputy Governor Heng Sam
An said. “We noticed they started destroying the forest since 2006.”
However, villagers say they had not settled illegally, and a
human rights official called their arrests illegal.
“The arrests did not confirm with legal processes, because
they did not have an arrest warrant,” said Ngoung Samoeurn, a provincial
coordinator for the rights group Licadho.
Authorities and villagers have had a dispute over the
area since earlier this year, following the investment of a Vietnamese
company, Chin Bien, in a rubber plantation where the villagers were living,
Ngoung Samoeurn said. “The conflict froze during the election period,” he said.
However, Heng Sam An said the villagers had not been
arrested for settling in the investment area but had been occupying protected
Around 90 villagers arrived in Kampong Thom town Thursday to protest
“We have been living in that area since 2004,” said Neang
Sinath, a representative of the villagers. “We were recognized by [Prime
Minister] Hun Sen to create the village.”
“If they do not release our villagers, we will not go back
home,” she said.
Heng Sam An said the villagers will be removed from their
settlement to another site, a plan the villagers reject.
“They cannot live in the new place, because there is malaria
and flooding in the area,” Ngoung Samoeurn said. “It is 20
kilometers from the actual village.”