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Manhunt for ringleaders of Preah Sihanouk land dispute clash

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Ream National Park rangers in cooperation with Prey Nop district forces and provincial Military Police demolished cottages that were illegally built to grab land in the protectednatural area, in the west of Ream commune’s Smach Deng village. Photo supplied

Manhunt for ringleaders of Preah Sihanouk land dispute clash

Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities on Sunday warned of legal action against the ringleaders and accomplices behind clashes between police and residents on Friday, which saw three people injured and three others detained for questioning.

On Friday, Ream National Park rangers in cooperation with Prey Nop district forces and provincial Military Police demolished cottages that were illegally built to grab land in the protected natural area, in the west of Ream commune’s Smach Deng village.

A report from the provincial administration said while the joint forces were demolishing three of the cottages, a mob of more than 100 people attacked them with molotov cocktails, wooden sticks, knives and slingshots.

The report said two commune security guards sustained serious injuries while three police officers were slightly injured in the mob attack.

The provincial administration said the authorities were working to determine the identities of the ringleaders and their accomplices and would bring them to justice without any exception.

“Those who had been cheated into illegally logging, clearing, burning and bulldozing the forest for ownership are advised to withdraw immediately,” the administration said in a statement.

Citing Articles 56 and 62 of the Law on Natural Resource Protection, it said the crimes carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a fine of up to 150 million riel (about $37,000).

Preah Sihanouk Provincial Hall spokesman Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that district authorities initially detained 17 people for questioning after the clashes but released 14 of them.

“Those not involved in the case were allowed to return home. The other three are still being held for questioning, but I have yet to be updated on further action,” he said.

Phearum said the district authorities will continue to demolish illegally built cottages to protect the conservation area.

Prey Nop district police chief Huor Yai could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc Cheap Sotheary said the authorities should have sought a peaceful solution as to whether the land was illegally occupied or otherwise.

“We don’t want to see such confrontations. Though the residents have built houses there, they should have been informed and peacefully summoned for questioning. They have already spent much money to build the houses,” she said.

Sotheary claimed that some residents had lived on the land since 2000. So far, she said more than 100 families had settled in the area before it was given to a private company for investment.

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