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Pair make bail in land dispute

Pair make bail in land dispute

KSpeu men charged in row with Phnom Penh Sugar must check in with court.

Kampong Speu provincial authorities on Monday released on bail two men who had been detained for six days for their alleged role in the torching of a makeshift office of a company owned by a Cambodian People’s Party senator, villagers and rights groups said.

You Ren, 26, whose 62-year-old father, You Tho, was one of the two released men, said she was happy her father had been allowed to leave the provincial prison, but said she was concerned that he had been told he would need to check in twice a month with the provincial police office.

“My father is sick and old. It’s very hard for him to come two times a month, but he has to because he’s afraid the police will arrest him again,” You Ren said.

“It’s an injustice for my father because he was not involved in burning down the company’s property,” she added, referring to the March 18 protest during which the Phnom Penh Sugar Company’s makeshift office was burned to the ground.

The company has been granted a 9,000-hectare land concession in Omlaing commune, which rights groups say could be in violation of Cambodia’s Land Law if, as suspected, owner Ly Yong Phat is also the beneficiary of an adjacent 10,000-hectare land concession. Under the Land Law, concessions are limited to 10,000 hectares.

About 300 villagers from Omlaing commune turned out Monday in front of the provincial court to welcome the release of You Tho and Khem Vuthy, the other representative.

They were arrested last Wednesday on what rights groups have said are likely unfounded charges, including incitement, arson and destruction of property.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, echoed the concerns of You Tho’s daughter about the terms of their release.

The village representatives “have to check in at the provincial police office two times a month from April onwards and appear any time the authorities need them, and if they do not comply the police can arrest them”, he said, adding that these restrictions could be particularly disruptive because both men live far from the provincial capital.

Khut Sopheang, the provincial court prosecutor, emphasised that the release was provisional, saying: “They have to return to the court any time we need them.”

Khut Sopheang declined to comment on whether the court would issue any more summonses or arrest warrants.

Muon Kunthear, the wife of Khem Vuthy, said she, too, was happy that her husband had been let out on bail, but that she was worried he would be arrested again if the dispute between villagers and the Phnom Penh Sugar Company led to more protests or confrontations.

“They will still put pressure on my husband. If the villagers continue to protest and demand to keep their land, the authorities will arrest my husband and put him in prison again because they accuse him of inciting the villagers,” she said.

Hi Hoeun, an Omlaing villager, said Monday that employees from the Phnom Penh Sugar Company – escorted by Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Battalion 313, which is receiving support from the company under a controversial military-private sector partnership programme – were still surveying the disputed land.

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