May 9, 2018

Four villagers charged, while two freed in land clearing case

Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court on Sunday charged four out of six villagers over the clearing of land in Stung Hav district, a rights worker said yesterday.

Cheap Sotheary, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator, said military police officers arrested six people who were on disputed land owned by Taing Tork, a businessman who filed a lawsuit accusing villagers of violating land ownership rights.

She said that the arrested were identified as Loch Touch, 56; Kao Heng, 42; Hut Hean, 30; Men Khen, 37; Phin Da, 30 and Nanh Cheat, 38.

She said that the NGO had initially planned to provide legal representation to the accused, but a lawyer from the Prime Minister’s bodyguard unit offered to represent the defendants. She said that Suy Chhun Hak will represent the four accused.

“Right now, the volunteering lawyer is from the bodyguard unit,” she said. “He will defend the villagers.”

Defence lawyer Mr Chhun Hak yesterday confirmed that four villagers were charged with damaging private property and that he was assigned to work on the case.

Ms Sotheary said that the court officially charged four of them on Sunday and dropped charges against Mr Hean and Mr Da.

A commune police officer who requested anonymity said on Monday that the six people were caught red-handed clearing land in a dispute between villagers and a businessman.

“The military police caught them working on the land and arrested them because the land is still in dispute between villagers and the businessman,” he said. “They were accused of violating ownership.”

She said that the dispute covers 45 hectares of land in Otres commune. She said that 46 families said the land belongs to them as per documents issued by commune and village authorities in 2003. However, Mr Tork said his landownership titles were granted by higher levels of the administration in 1995.

Villagers said they have occupied the 45-hectare land since 1992.

According to a court documents, Mr Khen and Mr Heng have said that they were working under orders from Mr Touch to clear the land.

The four charged villagers have been placed in pretrial detention.

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