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Villagers arrested in Siem Reap land row to appear in court today

Villagers arrested in Siem Reap land row to appear in court today

THE Chi Kraeng commune villagers who were arrested in a clash with police in March over 475 hectares of disputed land are due to arrive in Siem Reap Provincial Court today.

The 11 villagers were arrested on March 22 when armed police confronted them while they were harvesting crops on land Siem Reap Provincial Governor Sou Phirin had previously determined did not belong to them.

In that encounter, some of the 100 armed officers opened fire on about 80 villagers, four of whom sustained gunshot wounds. Since then, the 11 villagers have been held in pretrial detention on charges of theft and battery.

Ham Sunrith, deputy director of the monitoring and protection unit for the rights group Licadho, said Monday that he hoped the court would rule in favour of the villagers.

“According to our investigation, we hope that the court will drop the charges because the arrested villagers are victims of the authorities,” he said. “The accused were beaten during the arrest. Also, ownership of the land remains unclear.”

Residents of neighbouring Anlong Samnor district have presented documents that they say prove that they are the rightful owners of the land, whereas the Chi Kraeng villagers have not presented any such documents.

Sou Phirin previously ruled that the land belonged to villagers from Anlong Samnor, and in March offered the Chi Kraeng villagers a social land concession, an offer they rejected.

Meeting disrupted: villagers
Chi Kraeng villagers said Sunday that police had interrupted a meeting they convened in order to prepare witnesses for today’s hearing.

Pan Yi, 54, said 10 police officers clashed with villagers at the meeting, taking photos of some of the attendees and threatening to arrest them.

“When police arrived, some people ran to hide in banana trees, and some ran into a house,” he said.

When contacted Sunday, Chi Kraeng district police Chief Sok Theavuth said he was not aware of the incident but added that his officers had simply wanted to provide security to the villagers.