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Freedom sought for villagers

090327_01.jpg
090327_01.jpg

SIEM REAP

Photo by:
TOM HUNTER

Villagers,  shot during an eruption of violence in a land dispute in Siem Reap, in Provincial Hosptial on Thursday.

THE defence lawyer for nine Siem Reap villagers arrested during violent confrontations with police Sunday has asked the court to release the men pending trial.

Defence counsel Kao Soupha said Thursday he requested that the provincial court release the nine men, accused of committing robbery during the weekend's events, because they are innocent of wrongdoing.

In a letter to the court, Kao Soupha pledged that the detained would fulfill all necessary release conditions and would not complicate any of the court's investigations into the matter.

The nine were arrested when police clashed with villagers in the province's Chi Kraeng district Sunday following the escalation of a local dispute over 92 hectares of farmland contested by groups of villagers from two neighbouring communes.

"They have been wrongly accused," he said. "The most important thing is for the authorities to determine who is the owner of the land."

Luon Meat, 29, who was shot in the leg by police during the weekend's confrontation, said the land dispute erupted around four years ago.

"Villagers each claimed to occupy the land, and the dispute simmered until violence erupted when the police fired," he said, while recovering at Siem Reap Provincial Hospital.

Ty Sovinthal, a prosecutor at the Siem Reap provincial court, confirmed it had received the release  request and said the investigating judge would rule on it within five days. "If [he rejects it] the defence lawyer has the right to appeal," he said.

Am Sam Ath, a monitor for the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said on Thursday 44 Chi Kraeng villagers traveled to Prime Minister Hun Sen's house in Takhmao, Kandal province, seeking his help to resolve the land dispute and expel Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin.

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