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Bandith trial to begin soon

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Buot Chenda, 21, is taken to a hospital after allegedly being shot by former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith during a protest outside a Puma factory in Kratie province earlier this year. Photograph: Derek Stout/Phnom Penh Post

The long-awaited trial of former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith – accused of shooting three garment workers at a protest in February – could begin within the next week, a Svay Rieng Provincial Court official said yesterday.

Investigating judge Pich Chhert said the inquiry into the shooting, which rights groups have decried for its slow-moving nature, was complete and would be processed by the prosecution before being sent to the presiding judge, who will set a date for the trial.

“We have finished our investigation, and now the case is under the process of the provincial prosecutor to make a conclusion,” Chhert said.

“However, the hearing will be opened within a week.”

Svay Rieng provincial prosecutor Hing Bunchea said he would go so far as to examine the results of the investigation on his days off in order to send the case to the presiding judge as soon as possible.

“In this case, the criminal can be out of detention no longer than one month, so I’m trying to push the process of the case ahead,” he said.

Officials were silent on the subject of Sar Chantha, the Bavet town penal police chief who was placed under court supervision late last month as a “suspicious suspect” in the Bandith case.

On February 20, more than 6,000 garment workers from four factories in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone in Bavet town gathered to demand higher pay and improved working conditions.

Witnesses claim to have seen Bandith fire into the crowd, hitting three protesters. On April 18, he was charged with causing unintentional injury.

The three victims have each asked for US$45,000 in compensation.

Victim Buth Chenda, 21, who was shot through the chest, said she had appealed to all relevant authorities to act on her complaint, which has languished for months.

“Our case was kept more and more silent, and we are living in fear, because the criminal is powerful and even lives freely outside of detention,” she said.

Om Samath, senior investigating official for the rights group Licadho, said the handling of the case had made victims less concerned about the court’s verdict, as some had decided to simply accept that Bandith would not be punished.

“We notice that it is the deep-seated culture. If the wealthy, powerful and high-ranking people are involved in crime, the procedure will be taken in slow motion,” he said. “The court has no commitment to seek justice for the victim.”

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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