SIEM Reap provincial court has delayed for one week the trial of nine villagers from Chi Kraeng commune accused of trying to kill military police as part of a long-running land dispute in the area.
Sous Narin, an investigator for rights group Adhoc who observed yesterday’s proceedings, said Judge Chea Sok told the court that the hearing had been delayed because Chhay Kong, his fellow judge, was ill.
Hundreds of observers gathered outside the courthouse yesterday, which was under tight security and was closed to all but a few rights workers and local residents. The trial opened with a four-hour hearing last Tuesday in which the defendants pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted intentional manslaughter under Article 4 of the Law on Aggravating Circumstances of Felonies.
Bin Noeurn – the 56-year-old mother of Sek Soy, one of the nine accused – complained that the protracted nature of the case was putting a financial strain on villagers who had to pay US$5 to travel from their homes to the courthouse.
“I came to encourage my son and the other villagers,” she said. “My son has been in prison for more than a year, and I can’t imagine how difficult that is.”
The case is part of a dispute between villagers in Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes. Tension erupted in March of last year, when military police fired on Chi Kraeng villagers attempting to harvest rice on the disputed land, injuring four. No charges have been filed against any of the officers involved, but the nine villagers were charged after police accused them of threatening officers with machetes.
On Saturday, the nine Chi Kraeng villagers – and three others who have been arrested for separate offences related to the land dispute – wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking for his intervention in the case.