5 Villagers Jailed Over Alleged Destruction on Private Property

Five Kompong Speu province villagers were jailed Thursday for the second time this year for allegedly destroying trees on a government-granted land concession operated by a private developer, police said.

Local rights group Adhoc said Thursday that it believes the villagers were framed.

Pen Chhoeurn, 60, Chea Rom, 39, Kong Phos, 53, Men Sokhorm, 25, and one woman, Cheath Nam, 47, were jailed at the Kompong Speu provincial prison, said Meach Samoeun, deputy provincial police chief. The five, all residents of Tanouk village in Baseth district’s Pheakdei commune, were arrested Wednes­day at the provincial court following questioning by a deputy court director, Meach Samoeun added. “We arrested them based on the court’s order,” he said.

Deputy Court Director An Sa­m­nang said the five were charg­ed earlier this year with destroying trees belonging to the Golden Land company, which has government permission to develop a 4,900-hectare economic land concession in Baset district’s Pheak­dei commune.

An Samnang did not specify how many trees were damaged in the incident, which occurred earlier this year. An Samnang also confirmed that the five were jailed once before for the same alleged incident, but were released on bail in March after promising to move from their land and to end their fight with the company over ownership of the disputed land: “They finally did not listen to me and continued creating trouble for the company.”

Adhoc investigator Roth Thavy said the dispute stems from 2004, when the company was first granted the land concession and tried to move 200 families from 228 hec­tares of land where they had been living since the 1980s. Roth Thavy said he believed the five are innocent. “We found out that the real people who destroyed the company’s acacia and eucalyptus are a group of soldiers employed by this company,” Roth Thavy said.

“They did so to blame it on the villagers. Then, they enable the accusations against the leaders to silence their protest,” he said.

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