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Land row villagers stay near court

SIEM REAP

AROUND 50 villagers whose farming equipment was confiscated Monday in connection with an ongoing land dispute in Siem Reap province’s Banteay Srei district have vowed to continue sleeping on the streets of the provincial town, saying they would not be able to eat if they were to return home.

Some of those who have remained in Siem Reap are among the 32 villagers who were arrested and briefly detained on Monday night after they refused to stop clearing a 150-hectare area of land in Phnom Kulen National Park.

The group also includes the families of 14 villagers who on Tuesday were placed in pretrial detention after being charged with “destruction of trees in state plantation land”.

Kao Sophy – whose husband, Nith Yi, is in pretrial detention – said the families of those arrested have become dependent on NGOs for food, and are living in whatever shelter they can find.

Many are sleeping on properties near the courthouse, she said.

“Now we do not have rice to eat, and last night we received food support from Adhoc,” she said.

“We do not know where we should go, so we have to stay outside the court, or ask people if we can sleep nearby their houses during the nighttime.”

She said she believed that soldiers had confiscated the villagers’ farming equipment to be used as evidence in the case against them.

Nou Puthyk, provincial coordinator for the rights group Licadho, said the villagers were very poor, and that the confiscation of their equipment had been unnecessary.

“Villagers are not willing to go home because the disputed land was not handed over to them, and they lost labourers to do the farming while the men were detained, and the farming tools were confiscated,” he said.

Investigating judge Hok Pov said court officials were still probing the case, and that a trial date had not yet been set.

He added that the case would be processed as soon as possible.

“I am the judge. I do not want any case to take long,” he said.

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