Police in Cambodia's Kandal province set up roadblocks to prevent villagers from accessing their land, Sept. 7, 2021 (Photo: RFA)
Authorities in a Cambodian province have arrested more than 30 villagers amid ongoing protests over land disputes involving a billion dollars airport project.
Some 31 villagers in Kampong Talong village in Beung Khchang commune of Kandal province were arrested in a violent roundup, reports Radio Free Asia.
Police beat and dispersed protesters during a demonstration on Sept. 12 and arrested villagers accusing them of alleged violence against the authorities.
The Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC), a private Cambodian firm, has acquired the land of the village three years ago, for the construction of a new airport, estimated to be US$1.5 billion.
The OCIC is owned by Neak Oknha Pung Khieu Se, a top business tycoon who has close ties to Cambodia’s long-running Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Media reports say Khieu Se’s firm has exploited his political clout to compel the authorities to arrest the villagers amid the protests.
About 300 families of the village have been protesting against the airport plan as they refused to accept a compensation package from the firm they termed “too low” compared to their losses.
On behalf of OCIC, provincial authorities in Kandal have offered villagers US$ 8 per square meter of their land. The villagers say the compensation is much lower than the estimated market price of US$ 70-80 per square meter of land.
Nai Phon, a local villager, said that authorities arrested three of his family members – his wife Khim Chetra, and sisters Nay Phea and Nay Phol, adding that police have been searching houses and arresting villagers.
Phon said that he is a victim of land grab and for the past three years he has been begging the government to solve the dispute and to offer villagers acceptable compensation.
“And now we do not dare to claim the market price. We can accept a reasonable price to end the confrontation and have all the detainees released,” he reportedly said.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at rights group Licadho, condemned mass arrests and expressed shock over the arrest of such a large number of people in such a case.
He urged the authorities to release detainees as their imprisonment will “double their suffering” and their families will face more problems, adding that it affects both sides and draws more criticism for the authorities.
The arrests and violent crackdown on Sunday came after police prevented local farmers from having access to the disputed land, which is now under the control of the OCIC. Hundreds of police blocked villagers from visiting rice fields that were seized for the airport project.
As a form of protest, farmers set fire to the rubbish in front of the barricades set by security forces.
Police then accused villagers of resorting to violence by using sticks, stones, rubber bullets, and petrol bombs that allegedly left 13 police officers injured, forcing police to resort to the crackdown and arrests.