13 S’ville Villagers Charged With Land Grabbing Released

Thirteen villagers arrested in No­­v­­­ember for their part in the al­leged grab of 125 hectares of land in Sihanoukville’s Mitta­pheap district have been re­leased, court officials said Thurs­day.

Police had initially detained a to­tal of 39 villagers—out of some 42 who were charged with land grab­bing—on Nov 12 after they were ac­cused of inciting villagers to violently take the land, Siha­nouk­ville’s Governor Say Hak said on Thurs­day. Over the past month, about 20 of them had been freed, he said.

“We are still considering how many villagers will be freed of charges and released from jail,” Say Hak said, adding that he estimated that six villagers still remain behind bars.

“Only real ringleaders will be pun­ished,” he said. “Other villag­ers who were not strongly in­volved in the land grab will be re­leased.”

Say Hak said police will continue arresting ring leaders, even though local police said they have not been authorized to act on outstanding warrants.

Following the first wave of ar­rests, 72 villagers fled to Phnom Penh on Nov 20 and sought shelter in a city pagoda.

They were gi­ven food and rice by local human rights group Li­cad­ho but left the pa­goda about 10 days later.

Kek Galabru, founder of Li­cad­ho, welcomed the release of the 13 but expressed concern for those still in jail. Kek Galabru visited the ar­­rested villagers in mid-De­cem­ber and sought their release by lo­cal authorities on the grounds they were not the instigators of the land dispute.

Villagers at the site of the disputed territory said in November that they belonged to poor, landless families who had cleared and settled peacefully on the vacant land, some as long as four years ago.

Denying they had illegally obtained the land, the villagers claimed powerful people were trying to stake a claim to their properties owing to the growing price of land in the coastal town.


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