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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Police, villagers clash in Kampong Speu

Police, villagers clash in Kampong Speu

Kampong Speu Province
ABOUT 10 people were injured on Thursday morning when police attacked a convoy of protesters travelling from Kampong Speu’s Thpong district to the provincial court, where they planned to join an ongoing demonstration against the arrest of two community representatives in connection with a land row involving a Cambodian People’s Party senator, rights workers and villagers said.

The police attacked the convoy with batons, disabled one mini-tractor by cutting its drive belt and, for the second day in a row, set up checkpoints to impede the villagers’ progress, rights groups said.

One villager, Try Kea, 29, said he was beaten by police who tried to knock him off one of the convoy’s six mini-tractors.

“The police tried to knock me off my mini-tractor while I was driving, but I was lucky because another villager pulled me back,” he said. He added that some members of the convoy had brought food and cooking utensils with them, but said police had tried to confiscate these items to prevent the villagers from camping out in front of the courthouse, where hundreds of protesters remained late Thursday evening.

The two detained representatives, Khem Vuthy, 30, and You Tho, 62, were arrested Wednesday morning after being questioned at the court.

Judge Keo Mony said after the session that the pair had been charged with “persuading the villagers to protest, inciting them to commit arson, destroying company property and uniting together”. The charges stemmed from their alleged involvement in a protest last week during which offices of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company were burned to the ground.

The company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party senator Ly Yong Phat, has been granted a 9,000-hectare land concession in Omlaing commune. In a statement released last night, three rights groups said the concession could be in violation of Article 59 of the Land Law, which limits concessions to 10,000 hectares.

The concession is immediately adjacent to another 10,000-hectare concession owned by the Kampong Speu Sugar Company, the ownership of which, according to the statement, has not been made public.

The statement suggests that the companies have the same ownership, noting that they have enlisted the same representative in dealing with villagers, who fear their land will be affected by the concessions.

The statement – from Licadho, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights and the Community Legal Education Centre – condemns what it describes as “attempts to intimidate the villagers” on the part of the police, as well as the court’s decision to arrest Khem Vuthy and You Tho.

“The bogus charges against the two community representatives constitute yet another instance of Cambodia’s rich and powerful using the judicial system as a tool of enrichment and weapon of intimidation,” the statement reads.

The three rights groups also say that Ly Yong Phat’s “involvement in controversial and often violent land evictions is well-documented”, citing recent cases in Koh Kong and Oddar Meanchey provinces in which hundreds of families have lost their land to companies owned by the CPP senator.

Ly Yong Phat said Thursday that Khem Vuthy and You Tho could be released if they agreed to sign a contract with the provincial court stating that they would stop inciting villagers to protest.

He also said the use of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Battalion 313 – to which he is giving financial support under a controversial new military-private sector partnership programme – to guard the concession was necessary in light of last week’s fire.

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