The families of two Svay Rieng province villagers convicted in the uprooting of temporary demarcation posts along the Cambodia-Vietnam border in October said this week that SRP President Sam Rainsy had urged them to do it.
Currently abroad, Mr Rainsy has avoided prison for his January conviction in the border post incident but Meas Srey and Prum Chea, two villagers present when Mr Rainsy protested at the border last year, were each jailed for a year.
Their families this week urged Mr Rainsy and his party, which is planning to continue prison visits to the detainees later this month, to work harder for their release.
“Sam Rainsy encouraged the villagers to go there and pushed them to uproot” the posts, claimed Meas Pril, the brother of Ms Srey. “Sam Rainsy has to come to stand in front of the court.”
Svay Rieng officials first accused Mr Rainsy of criticizing Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities after the opposition leader held a meeting on Oct 25 with local farmers who were upset that the temporary border markers ran through their rice fields in Samraong commune. During the protest, the wooden demarcation posts were pulled out of the ground by hand.
On Jan 27, the provincial court sentenced Mr Rainsy—who had already left for France, where he remains-—to two years in prison for racial discrimination and damaging public property. For taking part in the post removals, the court also sentenced Ms Srey and Mr Chea to one year in prison each.
Though Mr Rainsy first denied removing the posts, he later claimed sole responsibility and unsuccessfully urged the court to drop its prosecution of the villagers. Since his conviction, Mr Rainsy has posted maps on the party’s website to support his claims that the government had placed the temporary border posts well inside Cambodian territory.
Though the government has dismissed the maps, and brought forgery charges against Mr Rainsy because of them, Mr Pril urged the opposition leader to make his case to the court.
“My sister and other villagers did not know there is a border map. It is only Sam Rainsy who knows where the borderline is and he could tell the court,” Mr Pril said. “I want Sam Rainsy to resolve this case.”
Chhoeung Sarim, the wife of the detainee Prum Chea, said she heard Mr Rainsy urge the villagers to pull the posts at the local pagoda before he and a group of villagers left for the rice field.
“Sam Rainsy encouraged and pushed the villagers to uproot the markers. He should resolve their conviction,” she said, adding that she was not angry with the opposition leader.
SRP lawmaker and party spokesman Yim Sovann Tuesday flatly rejected the claim that Mr Rainsy urged the villagers to pull the posts.
“It is not correct. They did it themselves,” said Mr Sovann, who did not attend the Oct 25 event at the border. “We did not encourage them to do” it, he said.
Mr Sovann also said the SRP was organizing a 40-strong delegation to visit the prison next week to bring food and medicine to the prisoners and food and money to their families.
SRP officials have visited the prisoners bearing food and money twice already. Mr Sovann said local party officials also visit them regularly.
Mr Sovann said Mr Rainsy’s lawyer, Choung Choungy, was also aiding the prisoners with their legal case. Mr Choungy, however, said he was not.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said Tuesday his organization would agree to help if asked.
Pun Savatt, chief clerk at the Court of Appeal, said the court had received the prisoners’ request for an appeal but had yet to set a date to review their case.