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Khun Sear disputants jailed

Ly Srea Kheng is escorted into Phnom Penh Municipal Court
Ly Srea Kheng is escorted into Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday morning after he was arrested by authorities at his house in Tuol Kork district. Vireak Mai

Khun Sear disputants jailed

A father and daughter who claim to have been victims of a string of abuses over the course of a long-running land dispute – including having snakes thrown into their house – were arrested yesterday.

Ly Srea Kheng, 60, was arrested at his home in the capital’s Tuol Kork district yesterday morning. Later that day, in dramatic circumstances, his daughter Ly Seav Minh, 23, was detained at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, while her brother, Ly Bunheang, 18, fled from the building, evading police on foot through surrounding streets.

The family has been fighting eviction since the Council of Ministers effectively signed over their land to the politically connected Khun Sear Import Export Co in 2010.

Seav Minh and Bunheang had been at court asking about the whereabouts of their father.

“They arrested him in front of my eyes,” said his wife, Mak Seav Houng. “Four police officers came in a car with four or five police motorbikes accompanying them.”

Srea Kheng was wearing only shorts when he was hauled away by police, who did not show a warrant or give him the chance to collect a shirt and shoes, his wife said.

“He was pushed into the car at such speed; they said nothing.”

Seav Minh and Bunheang went to the court at about 4pm seeking answers.

“When I arrived, its officials were friendly and called my sister to go inside a room,” Bunheang said. “Later, I saw her walk out, accompanied by two police officers, to the toilet. From there, she phoned me and told me to get out of the building.

“I knew I would be arrested if I stayed. I ran out and a few police officers chased me.”

After Seav Minh’s arrest, Bunheang said, he and his mother moved to a “safe place”. They were worried last night about their empty house being seized.

The family claims that employees of Khun Sear have thrown snakes into their house, destroyed their property, poisoned their animals and beaten them in an attempt to get them to give up their home of 30 years. The company has denied the allegations. According to Vann Sophat, from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, the company has accused the family of theft, destruction of property, violence and defamation.

The court had summonsed the family to appear for their latest round of questioning on November 13 and 14, but they asked for a delay, Sophat added.

“These arrests are illegal, because there is no warrant,” he said. “This is a message that they must move out … or face arrest.”

Court officials and Choun Narin, Phnom Penh deputy police chief, could not be reached.

The arrests closely follow those of 10 land activists and one monk who were sentenced to one year in prison last week.

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