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B’bang villagers freed

THE Battambang provincial court on Wednesday announced its decision to drop five-year-old trespassing charges against six villagers involved in a long-running land dispute.

But one of the men, community representative Chem Keo, remained behind bars awaiting a verdict from the Appeal Court on related charges.

“I announced a verdict to lift the illegal trespassing charges against the six men,” said Judge Duch Sok Sarin, though he declined to explain why.
Ho Chheng Ourn, a lawyer for Legal Aid Cambodia who is representing the families, said the judge had failed to give a reason when he read out the verdict.

The fight over 124 hectares of farmland in Battambang’s Thmor Kol district has dragged on since 1999, when Ieng Oeung filed a complaint against 38 families he accused of illegal trespassing. The families said they had been living on the land since the mid-1980s.

Authorities evicted the families in 2002. Since then, there have been five separate incidents of arrests after various evictees were allegedly caught trespassing on the land.

In addition to the 2004 charges that were dropped Wednesday, Chem Keo was also arrested along with four other men in 2006. The other four men were ordered to pay 10 million riels (US$2,409) each to Ieng Oeung and then released on suspended sentences. The Appeal Court said Tuesday that it would issue a ruling on the case on November 26.

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