Provincial authorit-ies released land protester Bun Ratha, who was detained on Friday and sent to Kratie prison, after his supporters blocked traffic on National Road 73 yesterday.
More than 500 villagers from Chhlong district’s Kampong Damrei commune, who are in a dispute with rubber company Kasotim after it was granted a land concession in the area, followed through on a threat to block the thoroughfare about 6am yesterday as they lobbied to have their village representative released.
The stand-off, near the Kampong Cham provincial border, ended about 2pm when vill-agers, in the presence of more than 50 police, agreed to clear the road when Bun Ratha, who had been accused of intentionally destroying Kasotim’s property, was brought to them.
Bun Ratha, a vocal opponent of the land concession awarded to Kasotim, said that before he was set free, the provincial judge had written to the prison chief ordering his release on bail.
“If they did not have enough evidence to detain me, why did they arrest me?” he said, adding that he feared that if his supporters had not demonstrated, “They would not have released me.”
Bun Ratha called for a change to the court system to ensure people were arrested only after a proper investigat-ion uncovered evidence.
“[Arrests] like these are aff-ecting our honourable country. According to the law, I could have been detained for eight months without a trial and without being guilty.”
Village representative Bun Sithet said yesterday’s protest had caused traffic to be backed up for about four kilometres.
“We are happy . . . Now we will take our representative to go to the pagoda near where we blocked the road so that a monk can bless him and he can have good luck.”
About 200 villagers protested in front of the provincial prison and court on Friday, blocking the road from Kratie town to Chhlong district, in an attempt to have Bun Ratha freed.
Chan Soveth, senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said he welcomed the decis-ion to release Bun Ratha.
“But the authority should find a resolution before villagers block the road,” he said.