A Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge has freed a villagers' representative who accused
the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, So Khun, and four others of land grabbing.
Judge Kim Sophoan said he had completed his investigation into a counter-complaint
by the five men that the villagers themselves had stolen the land.
Sophoan ordered Ny Sophal freed on November 22. He was arrested in October after
the judge accused him of interfering with the investigation into the counter-claim.
The court will hear that case early next year.
"His detention is unnecessary because the investigation is now completed,"
said Sophoan. "I cannot say at this stage whether [the villagers] are guilty,
as that is up to the court."
Sophoan recently announced that Minister So Khun had dropped his counter-claim against
the villagers over their accusations. His four associates, however, have not done
so, and Sophoan said the minister had apparently not relinquished his claim to the
"He asked for protection of his property and safety for himself and his family,"
said Sophoan. "My interpretation of his letter [dropping his complaint] is that
he will not give the land to the people."
The dispute erupted last year when the five men produced a land receipt claiming
ownership of a stretch of pond land 50 meters by 30 meters.
The 59 families claimed So Khun and his associates had stolen their land by falsifying
the receipt. The land department at the Phnom Penh Municipality seemingly confirmed
that was true in a letter earlier this year.
The villagers then filed a complaint with a court prosecutor, who issued a custody
warrant for the minister and his associates for falsifying land documents. But before
the warrant was issued, the minister and his associates filed their counter-claim
against the villagers.
Chin Chiva, the prosecutor investigating the villagers' allegations that the land
is in fact theirs, told the Post he was still working on the case.