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Villagers questioned in Chi Kraeng dispute

Siem Reap Province
THREE men from Chi Kraeng commune were questioned in Siem Reap Provincial Court for two hours Wednesday in connection with their involvement in a November 2008 altercation with two men from neighbouring Anlong Samnor commune. Judges said they would issue a verdict on December 7.

The three men – Chan Leap, 39, Sim Leap, 59, and Cheng Savoeun, 30 – are charged with illegal detention, as are two other men who are being tried in absentia. The two complainants in the case say they were forcibly detained by the group for seven hours on November 29 last year after they tried to plant rice on part of a 475-hectare plot of disputed land.

The case is just one aspect of a land dispute between the two communes that spilled over into violence in March when about 100 armed police officiers opened fire on 80 Chi Kraeng villagers caught harvesting crops on the land, which has been officially designated part of Anlong Samnor.

A total of 11 Chi Kraeng villagers are currently in prison on charges related to the dispute.

Path to hearing blocked
Rights group workers and Chi Kraeng residents said district police blocked a group of 25 villagers from attending Wednesday’s hearing.

Chap Voeun, the wife of Chan Leap, said the group woke up before 4am to drive to the court but were stopped en route by the police officers. She and the wives of the two other men were allowed to attend the hearing after staffers from the rights group Licadho intervened, she said, but the rest of the villagers were not.

Touch Sakal, Chi Kraeng district police chief, said his officials intercepted the villagers after hearing that they were planning to try to “disturb the court”.

“They tried to get through by saying that they were on their way to work in Thailand,” he said. “Maybe if they had told us the truth, we would have let them go. But we let the wives of the defendants go after Licadho requested.”

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