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Villagers freed over land violence

AFTER hours of questioning yesterday, Kampong Speu provincial court officials decided not to detain three villagers summoned to appear in connection with the burning of a sugar company office earlier this year.

“We decided not to detain these people because they have many small children and another woman is a widow,” Judge Keo Mony said after the hearing yesterday.

But he said the villagers would have to present themselves at the Omlaing police office each month until further notice.

In March, angry villagers torched a makeshift building belonging to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, a firm owned by Cambodian People’s Party’s Senator Ly Yong Phat. Local anger has been stoked by the company’s claims on 9,000 hectares of land in Thpong district’s Omlaing commune, a dispute that remains ongoing.

More than 300 villagers travelled to the court on Tuesday and waited outside the courthouse as yesterday’s questioning took place.

Three villagers – Chim Srey Mom, 41, Sar Than, 43, Dul Leang, 28 – were summoned for questioning in relation to the burning of the office. A fourth, Puth Yoeun, who is accused of living on company land, did not appear at court.

Suspect Sar Than said he denied the accusation that he and the other villagers were in any way involved with inciting a mob to destroy the office.

“I have been ordered and required to present myself at the Omlaing police post every month and in case I am absent, I will be arrested,” he added.

Chim Srey Mom also said she expected some sort of “trick”.

Ouch Leng, a land dispute officer at local rights group Adhoc, said that despite letting the accused villagers go free, the court had not provided justice to the Omlaing people.

“The court has not found any mistakes and it should drop all accusations against them. This land is part of an economic land concession, so the government has to solve [the dispute],” he said.  

Chheang Kimsruon, a representative of Phnom Penh Sugar Company, could not be reached yesterday.

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