TWELVE villagers imprisoned in connection with a land row in Siem Reap province have written to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting their release.
The request, sent on Saturday, came as Siem Reap provincial court was preparing to resume this morning the trial of nine of the villagers, who have been charged with attempted intentional manslaughter under Article 4 of the Law on Aggravating Circumstances of Felonies. That trial began last Tuesday, though journalists were barred from entering the heavily guarded courtroom.
“We have lost our farmland and have also been charged by the Siem Reap provincial court and detained unjustly,” the request states. “Based on these facts, we would like to call for Samdech to help intervene and resolve the dispute so that we can go back to farming.”
The dispute dates back to 1986, when one large village split into Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes, leaving between them an unspecified number of hectares of farmland.
Competing claims over the land became particularly heated after two businessmen, Chea Oem and Ly Savy, told authorities they were the rightful owners of 92 hectares and 72 hectares, respectively. In 2009, Siem Reap Provincial Governor Sou Phirin ruled that the land was in Anlong Samnor.
In March 2009, military police allegedly opened fire on Chi Kraeng villagers agitating for the right to farm the disputed land, injuring four of them.
No military police officers were arrested afterwards, though nine villagers have since been charged with attempted intentional manslaughter.
The other three villagers who signed Saturday’s petition were arrested in connection with separate incidents related to the land dispute.
Siem Reap provincial court prosecutor Ty Soveinthal yesterday defended the detention of the villagers, saying all of them had been charged with crimes recorded in police reports.
“If the accused want to be released, their lawyer has the right to appeal,” he said.