At Appeal Court, Ex-Soldiers Deny Violent 2012 Land Grab

Two disabled former soldiers convicted of razing the homes and grabbing the land of 30 rice farmers in Kampot province last year denied the charges during their hearing at the Appeal Court on Thursday.

Touch Soeuly, 57, and 11 other members of his Cambodian Disabled Rescue Association were convicted by the Kampot Provincial Court last year of violently occupying the 200 hectares in dispute and leveling the homes of 30 families growing rice there, and sentenced them to between two years and five years in jail.

Only six of them appealed the convictions, and only Mr. Soeuly and another member of the association, Van Von, were in court Thursday to defend themselves. Presiding Judge Khun Leang Meng said none of the 30 plaintiffs showed up either, because they did not have lawyers. However, the judge read a prepared statement from the plaintiffs in which they claimed they were injured when the association members allegedly leveled their homes and took their land.

Mr. Soeuly told the court that he and a group of other disabled former soldiers went to live on the land in 2000 when it was inside the borders of Kompong Speu province, and that the provincial government granted them 16,000 hectares in 2006. He said the 200 hectares of the concession now in dispute was later transferred to the provinces of Koh Kong, Preah Sihanouk and, finally, Kampot in 2011.

Mr. Soeuly said another group of families settled on the disputed 200 hectares in 2008 and that he complained to local authorities several times, but denied ever using or threatening violence.

“I didn’t order my members to fight the people and I didn’t know anything about this case because I was in Phnom Penh when the case occurred in July 2012,” he said, and also denied owning a gun that police allegedly found in his car.

Court prosecutor Im Sophan said he had reviewed the facts of the case and found no evidence against the two defendants. He also raised suspicions about the fact that the gun was retrieved from Mr. Soeuly’s car three days after his July 2012 arrest, and that Mr. Soeuly was not present during the search of the vehicle.

Mr. Von, the other defendant, also claimed that he was elsewhere when the violent confrontation with the plaintiffs allegedly occurred.

“I don’t know about this case because I went to live in Preah Sihanouk province in 2010, so I don’t know why they accused me,” he said.

Judge Leang Meng said he would deliver a verdict in the case on January 8.

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