The Mondulkiri Provincial Court yesterday released on bail three ethnic Phnong villagers charged with illegally clearing state land on the condition that they agree not to return to their homes and farms.
The trio was arrested on Sunday having allegedly felled trees on government property in Pech Chreada district’s Pou Chrei commune.
The following day, dozens of their fellow residents descended on the provincial court to demand their release.
“The judge agreed to release my husband and the others after they put their thumbprints [on a pledge] not to go back to their farms,” said El Sreyna, 37, wife of Proy Veasna, one of the detained men.
“It’s an injustice for us because we’ve planted this farm since long ago. How can we survive when they don’t allow us to harvest the crops we have grown?”
Provincial Adhoc coordinator Sok Ratha said the villagers were within their rights as an ethnic minority to cultivate the land and build homes on it.
“If the authorities know about the law and ethnic minority rights then they would allow them to cultivate that land,” he said.
Deputy prosecutor and spokesman for the provincial court So Sovitha was unclear on the details of the case yesterday.
“The prosecutor might have charged them with clearing state land,” Sovitha said. “Now the case is in the hands of the investigative judge.”