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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Safe return’ for villagers of Preah Vihear

‘Safe return’ for villagers of Preah Vihear

Four village representatives who feared arrest over a land dispute with the Drug and AIDS Research and Prevention Organisation have returned to their village in Preah Vihear province after protective assurances were granted by local authorities.

Four village representatives who feared arrest over a land dispute with the Drug and AIDS Research and Prevention Organisation have returned to their village in Preah Vihear province after protective assurances were granted by local authorities.

Yi Sok San, deputy head of the rights group Adhoc, said the men fled on January 14 after receiving letters from local police requesting a meeting with deputy provincial governor Sar Thavy on January 27.

Yi Sok San, accompanied by officials from Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, negotiated with local authorities over the weekend to guarantee the villagers a safe return to their village in Choam Ksan district without arrest.

“We asked the authorities not to bring police forces to the village when addressing these issues and to include civil society NGOs at the next meeting. The authorities agreed [to do so],” Yi Sok San said.

Last September two village representatives from Choam Ksan were arrested and charged with incitement, disinformation and forgery after a complaint was filed against them by DARPO. They were released on bail in October 2010.

Choam Ksan district governor Sok Hay said that the letter was just an invitation for a meeting.

“The villagers made complaints against others, and when we called them for a meeting to show evidence, they became fearful. We are authorities waiting to help them. There is nothing to fear,” he said.

Representative Hun Dareth, 25, said that he returned to the village on Sunday feeling safe. “I am normal now and have no feeling that I’ll be arrested.”

In 2008, DARPO received 556 hectares of land granted via social concessions from the government. 319 families filed a complaint with Adhoc in May 2010 accusing DARPO of expanding beyond the given land, bulldozing, destroying, and burning houses as well as threatening villagers.

Deputy provincial governor Sar Thavy said he did not have time to comment on the case on Monday. DARPO director Pen Loem could not be reached for comment.

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