Siem Reap province
SIEM Reap provincial court yesterday concluded hearings in the trial against nine men from Chi Kraeng commune who have been charged with attempted intentional manslaughter in connection with an ongoing land dispute, rights workers said.
About 300 villagers who had travelled from Chi Kraeng to watch the proceedings were barred from entering the courtroom, and they instead gathered outside to pray and light incense. Journalists were also prevented from attending the hearing.
The defendants have been accused of trying to kill military police officers during a March 2009 altercation that allegedly saw police open fire on a group of villagers, injuring four. No charges have been filed against any of the officers accused of being involved in the shooting, but the nine villagers were charged under the Law on Aggravating Circumstances of Felonies after police accused them of threatening officers with machetes.
Court officials either could not be reached for comment or declined to comment after the hearing ended, but Chheng Sophors, a senior human rights monitor for rights group Licadho, said a verdict in the case would be read out on August 20. “They delayed the verdict because they were afraid of villagers’ reactions and wanted to avoid any problems,” he said.
Ten Heab, the wife of Chheng Savoeun, one of the nine accused, was allowed to watch the hearing, and she expressed surprise afterwards that witnesses were not called by the prosecution. Only documents were presented as evidence, she said.
On July 27, the first day of the trial, judges heard testimony from the accused, who have pleaded not guilty.
“I don’t understand why they charged them with intentional manslaughter, because some villagers were just cutting grass and others were washing cows,” Ten Heab said. “I think they were angry at my husband because he recorded [the altercation] on his phone.”
The altercation stems from a land dispute dating back to 1986, when one large village was divided equally between Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes, leaving an unspecified number of hectares of farmland in dispute.
In January 2009, the provincial court ruled that all of the disputed land belonged to Anlong Samnor, triggering conflicts between villagers from the two communes. The altercation occurred on March 18 of that year, when villagers were trying to farm the disputed land.