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Families of protesters still seeking justice

Families of protesters still seeking justice

Battambang court drops charges against officers accused of killing

Poipet protestors

The families of five protesters shot dead during a forced eviction in Poipet will

appeal the Battambang provincial court's decision to drop charges against those allegedly

responsible.

Nuon Sokchea, a lawyer for the families, said relatives disagreed with the court's

August 4 ruling to dismiss murder, attempted murder and voluntary manslaughter charges

against approximately 60 police, military police and soldiers who fired into a crowd

of demonstrators in March.

The family members will lodge a complaint at the Appeal Court within days, Sokchea

said.

Investigating judge Nil Non said there was not enough evidence to continue with legal

action against the police officers and soldiers, and also dismissed charges against

36 villagers accused of attempted battery, said Sokchea, who works for local human

rights group Adhoc.

Sokchea said four police and military police, who were detained at the Battambang

court, were released August 4.

When contacted by phone for comment on the case Nil Non replied, "I have nothing

to say to the newspaper" and hung up.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of 18 NGOs, issued

a statement August 16 expressing their dissatisfaction with the dismissal of charges.

"CHRAC is concerned that no authorities have taken responsibility for the violent

incident and the courts appear to be acting without independence," the statement

said.

On March 21, more than 120 police, military police and soldiers tried to evict 218

families from a disputed 4-hectare plot of land in Kbal Spean village, near the town

of Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province. The stand off ended when police fired into

the crowd of crudely armed demonstrators, killing five and injuring eight others.

After the shooting, villagers moved to a temporary site nearby but soon returned

to their homes.

However, efforts to evict them continue. Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Heng

Chantha wrote a letter August 11 to inform villagers that they will be removed to

another site. The letter did not state where they would be relocated or when.

"What we are concerned about is the violations that might happen again when

they re-evict," Sokchea said.

Sok Sareth, first deputy governor of Banteay Meanchey said the new plot of land is

four kilometers from the disputed village and authorities will cooperate with NGOs

to build houses and dig wells for relocated residents.

Chey Sophat, a representative for the 218 families, said the people will not move

from their current location. They cleared the land and have lived on it since 1997,

he said, and shifting to a new location will cause them trouble.

"People here are fearing that they will be removed or they will face violence

again," said Sophat, appealing to King Father Norodom Sihanouk, King Norodom

Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen for intervention.

"Removing the people is like killing them," Sophat added.

Keo Sen, O'Chrov district governor, said the provincial authorities have prepared

a budget for buying a new plot of land for the planned relocation but are waiting

for a committee of provincial and district officials, human rights NGOs and residents

to be set up.

"We don't care whether they want to move or not, but we have to discuss to find

the best solution for them," Sen said.

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