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Protesters seek release of villagers

Protesters seek release of villagers

More than 100 villagers in Banteay Meanchey province were dispersed by police yesterday after attempting to request the intervention of the provincial governor following the arrest of two village representatives on Thursday in connection with a land dispute.

Ly Khley, 43, a village representative and former Khmer Rouge soldier from Santipheap village in Malai district’s Tuol Pongro commune, said that 122 residents had briefly entered the provincial hall after demonstrating outside the provincial court, before being pushed back by police.

“If the representatives are not released, the villagers will sleep in front of the [provincial] court until they are set free,” he said.

Yin Vang, 49, and Saing Ban, 53, have been charged with intentionally destroying property for allegedly ploughing a rice paddy on the disputed land, provincial court judge Theam Chan Piseth said yesterday.

“We are exploring the possibility of releasing them on bail, but making sure that they do not commit any further improper acts,” he said, adding that the villagers had protested “non-violently” yesterday.

Local residents have claimed that after former Khmer Rouge soldiers joined with the government in 1996, a local military commander gave about 5 hectares of land each to 376 families, which villagers did not use until two years ago because they were “working” elsewhere.

According to a local rights worker, businessman Ly Out Ny filed a complaint in relation to the dispute in 2009 to the provincial court, which awarded him 459 hectares of land in the area earlier this year. He claims that he bought the land in 1998.

Ly Out Ny said yesterday that he would not withdraw a recent complaint filed against the two representatives.

“If they were not wrong, the police would not have arrested them,” he said. “They played a trick by taking the land back after they sold it to me more than 10 years ago.”

Provincial governor Ung Oeun declined to comment yesterday.

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