Three people involved in a land dispute with a major general were sentenced to one year in prison and fined four million riel ($1,000) after the Oddar Meanchey provincial court found them guilty of trying to grab 600ha in Anlong Veng district.
The three represented 89 families in Anlong Veng district’s Trapaing Brei commune. The complaint against them was filed by Major General Ouk Kimly.
One of the sentenced, Noeun Savuth, called the decision unfair and said he plans to file an appeal.
“The land belongs to the 89 families who have lived there since 2017. Kimly bulldozed their land and they protested. There were more tractors and the people stopped them,” said Savuth, 50, who along with two colleagues were later brought into court.
According to the court’s warrant, the other two representatives are Soeun Pach, 44 and Van Chamroeun, 49.
Pach said on November 11 that he and his colleagues were named in a complaint by Men Sareth and Teang Lay who work for Kimly.
“We are not satisfied with the Oddar Meanchey court’s decision. We have suffered injustice and will file a complaint to the Court of Appeal,” he said.
Provincial court spokesman Hal Chheng Hong said on November 11 that during the hearing, Judge John Sopheak suspended the prison sentences.
“The court sentenced them already. If they are not satisfied, they can file a complaint to the Appeal Court. If they want to appeal, they can come to meet me and I will tell them about the procedure in filling out the form,” he said.
Anlong Veng district governor Hor Chin Virakyuth said the case was now out of his hands.
“We created a committee to tackle this dispute many years ago, but both parties did not accept mediation from authorities. They then filed complaints to the court. They said they have been living on the land for many years already but they do not have legal land titles yet. The other side [plaintiff] said the people encroached on his land,” Veng said.
Kimly could not be reached for comment.
Chea Hean, head of the environmental watchdog ACNCIPO, observed the case and said the court’s decision is an injustice for people who are true victims of the land dispute.
He said the court must conduct a specific investigation before punishing them in an unjust way.
“I think the decision is injustice for the true victims. I call on them to file a complaint to the Appeal Court and I will help them find lawyers,” he said.