Some 100 protestors stood outside the Svay Rieng Provincial Court on Tuesday as community representatives from Romeas Hek district’s Ampil commune in Svay Rieng province made their case to have charges for “involuntary damage and encroaching on to occupy state private land” dropped.
The charges stem from an eight-year land dispute involving 440 families on 670 ha of property and the NK Venture Company.
NK Ventures said the Ministry of Agriculture granted it a 1,200ha land concession to grow sugar in Ampil and Koki communes in 2010.
The firm said it had transferred land management rights to an unidentified company in the years since the concession was granted.
The unidentified company, NK Ventures said, had accused the community representatives of removing 100 demarcation poles, while the accused – Khieu Saron, Morn Sina, Thoeun Veng and Sam Voeun – claim to have removed only eight.
Veng did not appear in court, having moved to Thailand since the charges against him were brought.
Saron told The Post that nearly 20 police officers had torn down the village’s ceremonial hall to plant demarcation poles and fences during celebrations for the Feast of the Guardians on April 8, 2017.
The villagers protested and removed eight poles, Saron said, but the company filed a complaint accusing them of removing 100 of them.
“I would like the court to drop the charges against us and I also ask the head of the government for help in resolving the dispute for us by visiting to witness our hardship.
“Please do not believe the sub-level authorities too much, we demand to have our lost land back,” she said on Wednesday.
The villagers of Ampil claim that in 2010, NK Ventures Company had cleared some 670ha of cassava crops from the land they have lived on since 1982 without land titles.
Nouth Bopinnaroath, the provincial coordinator for human rights group Licadho, said he believed the charges would ultimately be dropped, but were designed to “to break the spirit of the protesters”.
“As a civil rights organisation, I request the court to drop the charges against the four representatives and do not [bring further] charges [against] them anymore.
“Upon the charges being dropped, leave the responsibility for the disputed land to the relevant departments of the Ministry of Agriculture or the government to find a solution,” he said.
Svay Rieng provincial court spokesman Tep Phalla declined to comment on the case, saying that he was busy on Wednesday.
Keo Samphors, a representative of NK Venture Company could not be reached for comment either.
Svay Rieng provincial court Trial Chamber president Sovann Chankrisna is due to announce the court’s verdict on October 9.