Siem Reap province
SIEM Reap provincial court on Thursday found two men guilty of clearing state forest in Oddar Meanchey province’s Samrong district, and sentenced them to two years in prison.
Long Sarith, 45, and Long Chan Kiri, 35, were arrested in Bos village in Samrong’s Konkriel commune on October 5, four days before the homes of more than 100 families were “burned and bulldozed down by approximately 150 police, military police and hired demolition workers”, according to a Licadho document published in November.
The forced eviction was part of an ongoing land dispute between residents and the Angkor Sugar Company, which is owned by Cambodian People’s Party senator Ly Yong Phat.
I want the judge to free my husband soon because he did not cut any trees.
Ly Sochetra, a defence lawyer appointed to the case by Lichado, said Thursday that Long Sarith and Long Chan Kiri were not guilty, and that their sentences were unfair.
“There is no justice because my clients did not commit the wrongdoings they were accused of,” he said.
Long Sarith’s wife, Hel Sophal, said she was surprised her husband had received such a lengthy sentence.
“I want the judge to free my husband soon because he did not cut any trees,” she said, and added that she will struggle to support their eight children while her husband is in prison.
The Licadho document states that the disputed area was settled by around 47 families in 1998, but that around 200 families lived there by 2003.
According to Licadho, the land dispute began in 2007 when the government granted three companies – the Angkor Sugar Company, the Cane and Sugar Valley Company and the Tonle Sugar Cane Company – adjoining land concessions in the area, each totalling approximately 6,000 hectares.
“Although the three companies are separate entities with independent management structures, it is suspected that they are all part of Ly Yong Phat’s business conglomerate,” the document states. “Cambodian law limits the maximum size for an economic land concession to 10,000 hectares, however well-connected businesses have been known to circumvent this law by forming multiple corporations and gaining adjoining concessions.”
Judge Ith Sothea said Thursday that the two men can file an appeal within the next month.
Ly Sochetra said he did not yet know if his clients planned to appeal the conviction.