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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Prosecutor faces discipline after police killing of villagers

Prosecutor faces discipline after police killing of villagers

The chief prosecutor of Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court, Nhong Thol, is likely

to be transferred or suspended by the Supreme Council of Magistracy (SCM) when it

meets to discuss his failure to manage the eviction of families from disputed land

near Poipet, during which police shot and killed five villagers.

Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana sent a report on the incident to the Supreme

Court and the Supreme Council of Magistracy on February 16. He said the agenda of

the SCM meeting is based on the recommendations of the disciplinary council, which

are submitted to the SCM for a decision. The SCM will meet when the King, its president,

can fit it into his schedule.

A Ministry of Justice court affairs inspector, who spoke on condition of anonymity,

said Thol's mistake was that he did not himself lead the forces to evict the 218

families on March 21, 2005, but delegated the job to the Banteay Meanchey court clerk,

Chan Savath, and that this led to the deaths.

"Because of his mistake he will be removed to another place or be suspended

when the SCM holds its meeting," the inspector said.

He said Savath was transferred to work internally at the Ministry of Justice on February

16 because of his role in the eviction killings.

Thol said he defended himself in front of the disciplinary council of the SCM in

May and continues to work normally.

"I am not afraid of any punishment," Thol told the Post on July 20 "It

depends on the decision made by the SCM."

On March 21, 2005, Savath led more than 100 police and military police in an attempt

to evict 218 families from a four-hectare plot of land claimed by the village chief

in Kbal Spean village, near Poipet town in Banteay Meanchey province. The families

refused to move, and a tense standoff erupted into violence when police fired into

the crowd, killing five people and injuring eight.

On August 4, 2005 Battambang Provincial Court dropped charges against roughly 60

police and military officers accused of killing the villagers. The court also dismissed

charges against 36 villagers that accused them of attempted battery.

Nuon Sokchea, a lawyer representing the villagers, said she filed an appeal two weeks

later and an Appeal Court official went to Kbal Spean to investigate.

On September 1, 2005, the president of the Committee for Strict Law Enforcement for

Human Rights in Cambodia, Heang Rithy, wrote a letter to Vong Vathana asking him

to punish Thol for his role in the eviction, alleging that his absence had caused

people to be killed and injured.

On January 12, 2006, Justice Ministry Secretary of State Tuot Lux and Appeal Court

General Prosecutor Hanrot Raken led a group to question the Battambang Provincial

Court investigating judge over the release of police and military charged in the

eviction. The two high-ranking judicial officers also questioned the Banteay Meanchey

Provincial Court prosecutor for his failure to take charge of it.

On July 4, 2006 Vong Vathana wrote to Rithy that the ministry had already sent the

officials to investigate the case at the scene and had sent reports to the SCM.

Sok Sareth, deputy governor of Banteay Meanchey, said authorities had provided each

of the 218 families with a plot 8 meters by 20 on the disputed land plus rice and

some money, and had built a school for them. The remaining land will be given to

the recognized owner, Tin Aun, the Kbal Spean village chief.

"Now there is no more problem and the people have forgotten the events of the

past," Sareth said.

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