Banteay Meanchey residents say that the two men who represented them in a land dispute have been wrongfully accused of murder and robbery.
AROUND 100 villagers from Banteay Meanchey province have been staying in front of the provincial courthouse for more than three weeks, demanding that two people from their village who represented them in a land dispute be released from prison, villagers said.
Fifty-six-year-old Van Saroeun and 45-year-old Kloeng Da, from Poipet town's Nimit commune, were arrested July 18 on charges of attempted murder and armed robbery, but villagers said that these charges are baseless and the men should be released.
"They have never done anything wrong," said 26-year-old Roeun Srey Neang, Vann Sareoun's wife.
"They were only arrested because they were our representatives in a dispute with a businessman."
Govt sides with villagers
Roeun Srey Neang said that around 400 families live on 100 hectares of land in Reaksmey Samaki village in Nimit commune, but since 2004, armed guards working for the unnamed businessman have prevented the villagers from farming rice on the disputed land.
In 2007, she added, villagers received a signed order from the Council of Ministers allowing them to continue living on the land, but local government officials refused to recognise this directive.
Roeun Srey Neang said that she and the other protesters would stay outside the courthouse until the two prisoners were freed.
"We are getting exhausted from staying out here because we don't have much food, but we are willing to stay until our men are released," she said.
Nuth Ly, police chief of Poipet town, said Thursday that he was not familiar with the directive from Council of Ministers chief Sok An, but that Poipet Governor Try Narin had already solved the problem for the people.
Try Narin could not be reached for comment.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said that his staff had provided food and water to the protesters outside the courthouse.
He added that Licadho staff have been summoned to appear at provincial police headquarters today for questioning.
"We do not intend to incite them to further protest, but when people lack food and need support, we must help him," he said.