Four years since his violent eviction from the capital’s Dey Krahorm community, a former village representative appeared in court yesterday, accused of destroying public property.
Chan Vichet was the only one of 15 residents accused of damaging an excavator and bulldozer in an incident in January 2008 – about a year before the residents’ eviction from the capital’s Chamkarmon district – to appear at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
“I denied the accusations, because I was at work when the incident is supposed to have occurred,” he said, adding that the other 14 villagers had not attended court because they had not received summonses. “I have witnesses to say I wasn’t there. The commune chief said he did not see me there but accused me of ordering others to tip over an excavator.”
Tonle Bassac commune chief Khat Narith filed the complaint against the villagers, alleging that the vandalism occurred near their homes on January 29 and 30, 2008.
Vichet said the accusations against the villagers, who had been relocated 20 kilometres from Phnom Penh, were designed to intimidate them.
“I am a victim of eviction,” he said. “I cannot be happy working hard in my daily life if I have to go to court too. I cannot live peacefully.”
About 800 families lived at Dey Krahorm before a series of evictions cleared the way for the 7NG Company. The final 90 families were evicted four years ago.
The court’s deputy prosecutor, Chet Khemara, said he believed that the incident had occurred but would seek more evidence.
Am Sam Ath, technical adviser for rights group Licadho, said the majority of complaints related to land disputes that made it to court were filed by businessmen or government officials.
“There is not equality, transparency or balance between villagers and companies,” he said. “I think that the court should consider dropping the case.”
“It is not justice for villagers if they will be punished more, because they have been evicted,” he added.
A verdict will be announced February 14.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at firstname.lastname@example.org
With assistance from Lieng Sarith