2 freed after Cambodia land rights spat

PHNOM PENH - Two Cambodian employees accused of participating in an alleged land grab by a Chinese company have been released from detention by ethnic minority villagers, an official and an activist said Wednesday.

The pair, bulldozer drivers for the Chinese firm, were held late Monday while they were trying to raze farmland claimed by the Kuoy ethnic minority villagers in Preah Vihear province.

Several hundred villagers armed with farm tools including axes surrounded the bulldozers and took the men captive -- but released them late Tuesday, a district official said.

"We are now working with the villagers to avoid future violence," said Ung Vuthy, governor of Tbeng Meanchey district.

The Kuoy, one of the largest ethnic minority groups in southern Cambodia, say they have lived on the land since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

But local media reports said the Cambodian government granted swathes of the area to a Chinese Company called Lan Feng in 2011 to grow sugarcane.

"We have been here for a long time, we cultivate crops in this area," Kuoy activist Poeun Choeun, 42, said.

"They .125the authorities.375 didn't stop the company, so we decided to stop them," Poeun said, adding they were seeking "justice."

Lan Feng Company could not be reached for comment.

Land grabs are among the most incendiary issues facing impoverished Cambodia.

Aid groups estimate that 770,000 people, or six per cent of Cambodia's population, have been evicted since 2000, including 20,000 people in the first three months of 2014.