Four villagers charged with robbery and the destruction of private
property during a clash with the military in June to face court next
KAMPOT provincial court has postponed until Monday the hearing of four villagers charged with robbery and vandalism during a land dispute, citing the absence of one of the case's three judges.
Nhek Chantha, 52, Vong Ma, 46, Moeu Sopheak, 19, and Noeu Kak-Kada, 18, were arrested in late June in Kbal Damrey village, in Kampot's Chhouk district, after protesting the subdivision of their land by troops from RCAF's Brigade 31.
The troops destroyed vegetable patches and nut plantations, saying they were making way for families evicted from the neighbouring hamlet of Anlong Krom, villagers and rights groups say.
The case was scheduled to be heard Wednesday.
"The case required three judges for the hearing, but one judge was in Phnom Penh for a mission so the case has been postponed," said Chin Lida, a defence lawyer from the Cambodian rights group Licadho.
Chin Lida said the four suspects are each facing one civil charge of damaging property and one criminal charge of stealing a soldier's mobile phone.
But Nhek Chanthol, the daughter of suspect Nhek Chantha, said the absent judge could have easily been replaced by another judge attached to the provincial court.
"The court intends to keep the suspects longer and longer [in detention]," she said. "The postponement is unlikely due to the lack of a judge."
Sun Sothea, secretary general of Kampot province, said that those arrested were reacting violently to Brigade 31 soldiers who were subdividing land in Kbal Damrey for 200 families evicted from Anlong Krom.
"Villagers were protesting violently at that time," he said. "So we use force to crack down on them."
Pech Chhoeurt, the case's presiding judge, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.