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Siem Reap court to hear case against Chi Kraeng villagers

SIEM Reap Provincial Court officials would hold a hearing today in the case against nine villagers from Chi Kraeng district’s Chi Kraeng commune following a two-month delay, the villagers’ lawyer Ham Sunrith said.

He said the villagers have been accused of robbery in connection with a long-running land dispute with residents from a neighbouring commune, but declined to comment ahead of the hearing.

The charges stem from a March 22, 2009, altercation in which police opened fire on a group of protesting residents from Chi Kraeng and neighbouring Anlong Samnor commune.

The two communes have been embroiled in a land dispute that dates back to 1986, and has resulted in a series of altercations since officials ruled last year that the land in question belonged to Anlong Samnor.

On September 15, presiding Judge Ith Samphos said the hearing would need to be rescheduled because one of the presiding judges had also conducted investigations into the case, and consequently could not rule on the proceedings.

Touk Ponloek, a Chi Kraeng villagers’ representative, said yesterday that Chi Kraeng district police had stopped a truck carrying about 50 villagers who were travelling to Siem Reap town in advance of the court hearing.

“It is very unjust for the villagers because we just wanted to listen to whether the hearing is fair or not,” he said, adding that the people had been forced to proceed on foot.

Chi Kraeng district police chief Touch Sakal denied the accusations, saying his officials had just asked some questions because the villagers’ truck was overloaded.

All nine suspects were acquitted of robbery charges in a related case last year, but have remained behind bars pending the prosecutor’s appeal.

On September 14, the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh postponed its hearing in the appeal, also because presiding judges had participated in the investigation. A date for the appeal hearing has not yet been announced.

Judge Sous La, who will preside over today’s hearing, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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