Some 100 villagers who protested on Monday and Tuesday outside the Koh Kong provincial court to seek the release of village security guard Tith Sitha have stopped doing so after provincial administrative officials promised to release him on bail for “threatening to kill” a provincial deputy governor.
Protester Ruot Sophal confirmed on Wednesday that they decided to stop the protest.
“After the official said he will solve the [issue] so that Sitha will be released, we decided to stop protesting and wait for the provincial court’s verdict,” Sophal said.
He said Sitha’s arrest was made after provincial deputy governor Sok Sothy sued Sitha for threatening to kill him.
Villagers had used equipment to build a road in the village located in the disputed area with Chinese-owned Union Development Group (UDG).
Sothy ordered the villagers to stop, but as the village security guard, Sitha defied the order.
“Sothy ordered the villagers not to do it, or he will send police to seize the equipment, but Sitha supported the people by not allowing Sothy to stop the road-building,” said Sophal.
Koh Kong Provincial Court spokesman Un Sovan Theany said Sitha, 40, who lives in Prek Khsach commune, Kiri Sakor district in Koh Kong province, was arrested by police.
He was charged by an investigating judge and put into pre-trial detention on Monday for threatening to kill under Article 233 of the Criminal Code.
The provincial court summons quoted Sitha as saying to Sothy on social media: “Why did you threaten [the] commune chief? What did you say before and later on? Please listen to … I can [bring] death to you any day. Prepare to die.”
The deputy governor said on Wednesday that Sitha did mean to kill him on April 8. He asked Sitha to publicly apologise to him to end the case, but the security guard refused, so Sothy decided to take legal action against him.
Sothy confirmed that an official promised to negotiate a compromise, but said only the court had the authority to make the decision. He said he would consider dropping his lawsuit.
“The most important thing is that he acknowledges his guilt and all villagers stop protesting,” he said.
Rights group Adhoc provincial coordinator Thong Chan Dara said this was an injustice to Sitha because he only protected the villagers who built the road, and he threatened Sothy out of anger.
“It is just an exchange of messages about the argument. He [Sitha] does not dare to [kill] like what he said. They were furious with one another and exchanged verbal attacks against each other,” Chan Dara said.