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No resolution in land fight

No resolution in land fight

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090626_05.jpg

Rights groups call on Siem Reap officials to resolve an ongoing land dispute that led to a violent clash with local and military police officers in March.

Photo by: Tom Hunter

Villagers injured in a March flare-up in Chi Kraeng district seek treatment at Siem Reap Provincial Hospital.

THE government is not moving fast enough to resolve a land dispute in Siem Reap's Chi Kraeng district, which three months ago erupted in violence that injured four villagers and led to the detention of nine others, civil society groups said this week.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of NGOs, issued a statement Monday calling for an "independent and unbiased" investigation into the March 22 clash with local and military police officers.  

Villagers from Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes have been fighting over a 92-hectare swath of farmland in Chi Kraeng district since 2005. Siem Reap Provincial Governor Sou Phirin ruled that the land belonged to villagers from Anlong Samnor, and in March offered the Chi Kraeng villagers a social land concession, an offer they rejected.

The violence on March 22 occurred when Chi Kraeng villagers attempted to harvest crops they had planted on the land, rights groups said. Officers opened fire on the demonstrators who refused to disperse, they said.

Hang Chhaya, director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, which is part of CHRAC, said in Monday's statement that Sou Phirin met with CHRAC representatives on April 30 and promised that officials "would speed up a resolution of the dispute and would reinvestigate" the outbreak of violence.

"But there has still not been a resolution to comfort us," he said.  

Sou Phirin confirmed Wednesday that the April 30 meeting had occurred but declined to say whether he had vowed to facilitate a resolution to the dispute.

In an interview Wednesday, Hang Chhaya said, "We are sorry for the nine men who are still in pretrial detention. We requested in the [April 30] meeting to call for their release because the real offenders have been free from punishment."

No local or military police officers have been arrested in connection to the case, Hang Chhaya said.

Sou Phirin said Wednesday that the fate of the nine men currently detained was in the hands of the Siem Reap Provincial Court, adding that he could do nothing to influence its decision.

Am Sam Ath, a monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said Thursday that no hearing had been set for the men, who have been held on attempted robbery charges, with the prosecutor asserting that they attempted to steal rice from the land.

In the CHRAC statement issued Monday, Adhoc President Thun Saray said, "The people who are the victims of this land dispute were shot and arrested, while the offenders are free from punishment." 

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