NINE villagers called to Prey Veng provincial court yesterday in connection with a land dispute opted not to appear for fear of being arrested, villagers said.
Community representative Heng Huot said yesterday that he was asked to represent the group after another villager was arrested last week.
“I represented them because they were afraid of the court arresting more villagers,” he said.
The villagers have accused Pea Raing district officials of illegally selling off four lakes in Peam Ampil village, Reap commune, to businessman Srun Sros for 19 million riels (around US$4,508) in 2000.
The lakes range in size from 2 to 7 hectares and were formerly used for fishing and agricultural activities.
On July 7, villager Sim Ang was arrested for destroying private property after answering a summons to appear at the court. Villagers say he merely went fishing in the disputed lakes.
Sieng Ly, one of the villagers who failed to attend yesterday, said the group feared arrest because of what happened last week.
He said that when Deputy Prime Minster Bin Chhin, who is also chairman of the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution, visited the village in January to mark the anniversary of the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime, he announced that the lakes were “for the public”, and that “no individual can claim [them]”.
But after villagers went to fish in the lake on January 6, Srun Sros filed a complaint against them that has prompted the recent court action.
“We do not want to see more people arrested,” Sieng Ly said. “We are afraid of going to court.”
Suon Piset, a clerk at the provincial court, said Wednesday that Heng Huot could not act as a representative of the villagers because the case was a criminal one and because Heng Huot did not live in the village where the dispute is taking place.
He said a fresh summons would be issued to the nine villagers, but that he did not know when that would happen.
The deputy prime minister could not be reached for comment yesterday.