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Court suspends Preah Vihear land case

Court suspends Preah Vihear land case

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court Judge Ke Sokhan on Wednesday suspended judgment against 16 people charged with illegally clearing a protected forest in Preah Vihear and using weapons against authorities who tried to forcibly evict them.

"We are suspending the trial because the complexities of the case require further consideration," a second judge, Nhean Sovann, told the court. "A new trial date has not yet been scheduled."

The charges stemmed from an incident in November 2007 during which armed civilians and military police, along with forestry officials, shot dead two people and detained 16 others accused of illegally clearing a protected forest outside Sra'em village in Preah Vihear.

Former deputy governor of Preah Vihear, Meas Savoeun, has denied accusations that he ordered villagers to clear the forest and used an illegal firearm during a standoff with police.

Man Chanthorn, whose wife was shot and killed by authorities during the standoff, said he received a letter of support from former King Norodom Sihanouk, who sought his freedom from prison, and pleaded to be released to care for his three children.

All defendants maintained their innocence and asked the court to dismiss the charges.

However, prosecutor Hing Bun Chea insisted the court uphold the law, and forestry officials requested the court impose a US$50,000 fine on each defendant.

Am Sam Ath, an adviser for the rights group Licadho, said the court has ignored the true criminals in the case by not focusing on those who killed the two villagers."Instead, they are trying to convict the victims."

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