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Villagers questioned in court on land clash

Siem Reap judges focus on fight that left four with gunshot wounds; verdict set for next week.

Siem Reap Province
NINE villagers arrested in March after a clash with police over disputed land in Siem Reap province were questioned in provincial court for more than four hours Tuesday, after which the court announced that a verdict would be issued next Tuesday.

A total of 11 villagers have been held in pretrial detention and charged with theft and battery since March 22, when 100 armed police opened fire on 80 villagers who were harvesting crops on land that Siem Reap Provincial Governor Sou Phirin previously had said did not belong to them.
Four villagers sustained gunshot wounds in that encounter.

Two of the three judges sitting in on the case – Chy Sokh and Sous La – said they did not know why the other two villagers were not brought before the court Tuesday. Several Chi Kraeng villagers said that, as far as they knew, the two other suspects were still being held in provincial prison.

I do not have any hope that justice will be brought to the villagers.

The two judges declined to elaborate on the specific questions posed during the closed-door hearing, though Ham Sunrith, deputy director of human rights monitoring and protection for the rights group Licadho, said the questions largely focused on the March 22 altercation.
Chi Kraeng villager Pak Tov, 36, said afterwards that the hearing was “very unjust”, adding that he believed the court should focus on trying the officers who opened fire on the villagers.

“The villagers did not cause injury to anyone,” he said. “If you are going to accuse them of causing injury, please show us the injured people.”

He added: “I do not have any hope that justice will be brought to the villagers, because they have filed many complaints, yet no action has been taken. They do not call the other side. They only call the villagers. People were shot, but the judge will never bring the police to court.”

Kao Soupha, the lawyer who brought a complaint against the police in June on behalf of the Chi Kraeng villagers, last month accused the court of dragging its feet in building the case.

Siem Reap provincial prosecutor Ty Soveinthal said at the time that villagers who could provide necessary testimony had been tough to track down.

Ham Sunrith said it would not be possible to determine whether Tuesday’s hearing had been conducted fairly until the court issued a verdict.

Chi Kraeng villagers said Sunday that police had interrupted a meeting they convened in order to prepare witnesses for Tuesday’s hearing.

Pan Yi, 54, said 10 police officers clashed with villagers at the meeting, taking photos of some of the attendees and threatening to arrest them.

Chi Kraeng district police Chief Sok Theavuth said Sunday he was unaware of the incident but added that his officers had simply wanted to provide security to the villagers.



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