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Kampong Speu villagers awaiting representatives’ release

Kampong Speu villagers awaiting representatives’ release

ABOUT 200 villagers from Kampong Speu province’s Thpong district have vowed to greet two community representatives who are scheduled to be released Monday from Kampong Speu prison and escort them back to their homes, villagers said.

Meanwhile, a group of 400 villagers will be standing by to protest if the pair are not released by authorities as promised.

Suon Ly, a villager from Thpong district’s Omlaing commune, said, “About 400 villagers are prepared to come to protest in front of the provincial court again if the authorities do not uphold their promise.”

Another villager, Hi Hoeun, said he did not have much faith in the authorities, and that they have lied in the past about efforts to resolve their ongoing land dispute.

“We will walk together to protest on Tuesday as we did on March 24 if they break their promise and fail to release our representatives,” he said.

Authorities agreed to release the two representatives after at least 500 protesters blocked a section of National Road 4 in Kampong Speu from 11am to 1pm on Friday, rights workers said.

The two representatives, Khem Vuthy and You Tho, were arrested last Wednesday on what rights groups have said are likely unfounded charges after a questioning session carried out by the provincial prosecutor. In a joint statement released last week, Licadho, the Community Legal Education Centre and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights said the prosecutor refused to hear from defence witnesses and “failed to offer any evidence of the defendants’ ‘guilt’”.

The charges – which include incitement, arson and destruction of property – stem from a land dispute with the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party senator Ly Yong Phat.

“There was no justification to arrest and place the two persons in pretrial detention,” Licadho director Naly Pilorge said.

She added that the village representatives “came with witnesses that could testify that they were not involved in any illegal act, but the Kampong Speu court refused to even question the witnesses”.

The Phnom Penh Sugar Company has been granted a 9,000-hectare land concession in Omlaing commune, which rights groups say could be in violation of Cambodia’s Land Law if, as suspected, Ly Yong Phat is also the beneficiary of an adjacent 10,000-hectare land concession. Under the Land Law, concessions are limited to 10,000 hectares.