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Court delivers sentences in land dispute

Court delivers sentences in land dispute

Siem Reap province
SIEM Reap provincial court yesterday handed down one-year suspended sentences to seven villagers from Chi Kraeng commune in connection with a long-running land dispute.

Judge Chhay Kong ruled yesterday that the seven men were guilty of causing injury to private property owners during a November 2008 altercation.

An eighth man, named Sinh Sam Lei, was also convicted in absentia of incitement, and ordered to serve a two-year suspended sentence, said Chhay Kong, who is responsible for three different court cases related to the dispute.

The seven Chi Kraeng villagers were acquitted on charges of incitement, while charges of causing injury and destruction of property were dropped against Sinh Sam Lei.

Ham Sunrith, a lawyer who works for the rights group Licadho, appeared to differ with the judge, claiming all eight men had been convicted for “illegally occupying private property”, and that the incitement charges had been dropped.

The row dates back to 1986, when one village was divided between Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes, in Chi Kraeng district, leaving an unspecified amount of farmland in dispute. Last year, the provincial court ruled that all of the land belonged to Anlong Samnor, triggering conflicts between the two communities.

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for Licadho, said the guilty verdict against the seven villagers was “unacceptable”, despite the judge’s decision to suspend the sentences. “We cannot accept that the court has said that the Chi Kraeng villagers injured ‘property occupiers’,” he said, adding that “there are no real land owners” in the case.

Licadho president Pung Chhiv Kek said four of the villagers still face charges in two other cases related to the dispute.

Chheng Savoeun, one of the convicted villagers, said outside the courtroom yesterday that he planned to appeal for intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen, as well as national and international rights groups.

“Please help me and my group to be freed immediately… so I can live with my wife and children,” he said.

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