Six ethnic Kuoy villagers, citing fear of arrest, refused to appear for questioning in Preah Vihear on Wednesday over the confiscation of four pieces of equipment being used to clear community land by a subsidiary of the Chinese sugar company Rui Feng.
On March 21, Phy Sithorng, deputy provincial prosecutor, issued summonses for four villagers – Than Thany, Rim Thoeuy, Kham Sopheak and Chea Eng – to appear in court for questioning on accusations of “incitement to commit a crime, extortion and intentionally destroying” machinery.
Sopheak and two other villagers, Nab Noeun and Thai Sothina, were also asked to appear at the Chheb District Police Station for questioning on Wednesday and Thursday.
The villagers were asked to appear for questioning after they refused to return the four tractors and bulldozers they seized. Heng Yu, a subsidiary of Rui Feng, had hired a Kampong Thom province contractor to clear the land, and the owner filed a complaint to the court following their refusal to return the machinery.
Sithorng said none of the four villagers ordered to appear in court on Wednesday showed up.
“We need to check the [relevant] documents and legality first [to see] whether we can invite them for a second and third time,” she said. The “temporary accusations” are based on a lawsuit filed by the owner of the machinery, she said.
“[The case] is at the beginning of the investigation,” she said, adding that it’s unknown whether or not the accused committed the crimes they are accused of as they need to appear for questioning in order to obtain evidence.
On February 25, some 70 villagers protested in an bid to stop the tractors from clearing community forestland. After seizing the tractors, they drove them to the end of the village and removed the keys and batteries.
One of the four villagers, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said they did not show up for questioning because the summons had the wrong name of the village and commune where they allegedly committed the actions. He said villagers were also worried about being detained.
“We might give testimony if more villagers go to court to support us,” he said. “But at the moment, people are busy farming. We are afraid of [getting] arrested when [we] appear.”
The same person said the villagers ordered to appear for questioning at the Chheb police station on Wednesday and Thursday also didn’t show up.
Sothina, one of those villagers, said police delivered her a second summons to appear at the district police station on Thursday, though she was unsure of whether she will appear or not. “We all worked together to seize the machinery, but only some of us were [summonsed],” she said.
Chhuo Mady, Chheb district police chief, confirmed the villagers were ordered to come to the police station.
“We have invited them twice, but they do not come,” he said, declining to specify a reason for the summons.