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Five arrests over KSpeu land dispute

Five arrests over KSpeu land dispute

Judge claims UN backs him; UN expresses its 'concern'

FIVE representatives for more than 200

families who lost their farmland as part of a government-sanctioned

economic land concession were arrested Wednesday on charges of

trespassing and destroying the property's acacia tree crop last year.

In 2004 the government ceded 4,900 hectares of land in the Basith

district of Kampong Speu province to the Golden Land Co to develop

industry and plant acacia trees, said Roath Thavy, a monitor for the

Cambodian rights group Adhoc.

"This affected 228 hectares of land belonging to more than 200 families that is located within the concession," he said.

"The company used military forces to fire on the people, destroying

their farmland and burning houses in late 2007," Roath Thavy said. Two

of the five seized this week were jailed during the raid last year but

released in March 2008 after promising to stay away from the land.

Unlawful arrest?

"The

court issued a summons for the five representatives to attend court

Wednesday but as soon as they arrived at the court they were arrested,"

Roath Thavy said. "The arrest violates judicial procedures as this is a

civil land dispute case, not a criminal case."

But Kampong Speu court judge On Samnang said that the court had the

right to detain the five because destroying acacia trees is an

indictable offence. 

"It is normal that the people are angry, but they are the ones at

fault for farming on land that has been given by the government to a

company for investment," he said.

The company used military forces to fire on the people ... and burned houses.

"I received a call from the United Nations Office of the High

Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) this morning approving the

detention of the people in order to educate them not to continually

trespass on the company's land," On Samnang added.

An OHCHR officer,

who asked not to be named, said that OHCHR has been in contact with the

investigating judge, but to raise concerns over the arrest and

detention of the five.

Roath Thavy said that the people have requested that Adhoc ask the

government to release the five and give them back their land.

"I have now compiled a report for the Phnom Penh Municipality and have requested intervention from the UN," he said.

Land disputes have become increasingly violent in Cambodia, with tens of thousands losing their land.

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