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Rights staffers questioned

Rights staffers questioned

Two staff members of a human-rights group and a journalist had maintained their innocence in the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court while appearing on charges of incitement in connection with a long-running land dispute, rights workers said yesterday.

Adhoc provincial co-ordin-ator Pen Bonnar, Adhoc monitor Chhay Thy and Radio Free Asia reporter Ratha Visal were issued with summonses by provincial court prosecutor Luch Lao at the beginning of last month.

The incitement charges relate to a prolonged land dispute in Lumphat district involving the private rubber company DM Group, which villagers have alleged encroached on 260 hectares of their land.

Pen Bonnar and Chhay Thy  left the province in July, 2009 to avoid the charges, but  returned last year.

Chhay Thy said yesterday that during questioning he had denied charges that he had incited villagers to protest against DM Group.

“I said I did not do what they were accusing me of, because during the time in question I was not working as an Adhoc staffer,” he said.

Chhay Thy said he was not worried because he had done nothing wrong.

“I ask the prosecutor to withdraw all charges against me,” he said.

Ouch Leng, the head of Adhoc’s land program, said yesterday  the provincial court was unfairly siding with DM Group against the villagers.

“The court officials in this province are not independent; they are taking the company’s side,” he said. “The government should not allow the court to deal with cases involving the company any more.”

Ratanakkiri Provincial Court prosecutor Luch Lao could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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