Verdict expected today for nine others arrested in related land row as families face food crisis
Siem Reap Province
FOUR men who had been summoned to Siem Reap provincial court in connection with a long-running land dispute failed to show up on Monday, and nine others jailed on charges of theft and battery in a related case prepared to receive a verdict, which is expected today.
Investigating Judge Sok Leang had summoned the four men – three Chi Kraeng commune villagers and their lawyer – to answer to charges that they insulted and illegally detained court officials during a protest in January concerning a dispute over land that has also been claimed by residents of neighbouring Anlong Samnor district.
The judge said he planned to issue two more rounds of summonses before resorting to an arrest warrant.
Ngos have few gifts to give to the families of those who were arrested.
Also on Monday, a group of doctors, a monk and a rights group leader visited 11 Chi Kraeng villagers who were arrested after a March 22 protest during which 100 armed police opened fire on 80 villagers caught harvesting crops on the same 465-hectare section of disputed land.
Nine of the 11 villagers appeared in court last week to answer questions about the case, and the court is expected to issue a verdict today. The other two suspects are still in prison and are expected to be tried in a separate case.
“We celebrated the water-blessing ceremony for those people in the hope that it can somehow help the nine villagers to be free,” said Loun Sovath, the monk who visited the prison.“Those prisoners cried when they saw us.”
Families short on food
While the 11 suspects have been in prison awaiting rulings from the court, more than 100 families affected by the dispute have been grappling with a severe rice shortage for the past several months, Loun Sovath said.
“It is the decision of the authorities not to help these villagers,” he said. “They have had a hard time since the land dispute erupted into violence.”
He added that the families of the arrested men had been affected most of all – a claim supported by other villagers and rights group workers.
Ham Sunrith, deputy director of human rights monitoring and protection for the group Licadho, said Wednesday that on recent tours of villages in Chi Kraeng commune he had seen many families facing rice shortages.
“We hope that government officials will decide to resolve this problem, because NGOs have few gifts to give to the families of those who were arrested,” he said.
Sork Sereyrothmony, Chi Kraeng commune governor, denied last week that families in his commune were facing shortages, adding that he had heard of only one in recent months.