KAMPONG Speu provincial court has summoned 16 villagers from Thpong district’s Omlaing commune to appear in court Wednesday to answer questions related to the burning of an office belonging to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company last week, provincial court officials said.
Court clerk Seng Chamroeun Rith said the summons orders were issued Friday and that the 16 were bound by law to appear. “If they don’t appear in court, the court will issue an arrest warrant for them,” he said.
Since Thursday’s incident, about 100 soldiers have been sent to guard the disputed land, which is part of a 9,000-hectare concession granted to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat.
Khem Vuthy, a villager who received a summons order Monday, said, “I am not afraid, so I will appear in court on time because we were just trying to prevent our rice paddies and farmland from being taken.... The court should settle our problem by finding a middle ground.”
“In the summons order they accused us of destroying company property, but in fact I didn’t do anything,” he added.
You Thou, 62, an Omlaing commune councillor and one of the 16 summoned to court, said that in addition to the summons over the fire, he also faced an earlier summons to appear on Wednesday in response to a complaint filed against him by Chhean Kimsuon, a representative of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company. “I don’t know why they didn’t just come arrest me at my home,” he said.
Hi Hoeun, another villager, said members of the community would accompany the 16 to court in an act of solidarity. “If they arrest one of our representatives then we will stay at the prison together,” he said.
Ouch Leng, land programme officer for the local rights group Adhoc, said the court had only located six of the villagers summoned because the others had used false names in previous complaints about the company to the court.
Kampong Speu Governor Kang Heang said the company had every right to file complaints against the villagers for destroying its property.
“The company filed its complaint according to the law,” he said. “25 percent of the villagers who protested in front of the office and burned it down were drunk,” he added.
According to a recent Adhoc report, there have been 16 major cases of land disputes in which violence was used by authorities since January, during which 21 villagers were arrested, 18 seriously injured and 37 questioned in court, while 30 more stand to be called in for questioning soon.
Chhean Kimsuon, the company representative, and Khut Sopheang, provincial court prosecutor, both declined to comment Monday. Ly Yong Phat could not be reached.