Case Against Villagers Delayed as Mysterious Accuser Absent

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday postponed the trial of four villagers from Russei Keo district accused of using violence against a landowner, after the mysterious plaintiff in the case failed to appear in court.

The complaint was filed in May 2012 on behalf of one Lao Tung Ngy, who accuses the four of committing violent acts against him after he told them to vacate land he owned, said Chann Socheat, a lawyer for the accused. The complaint does not specify what acts were committed, he added.

Mr. Tung Ngy did not appear in court Monday and all four defendants said they had never met the man.

“I have never known the plaintiff, I have never seen his face or heard his voice,” said one of the accused, Bou Meng, 40, adding that the hearing was the third time he and his co-accused had appeared in court since 2012.

Due to the plaintiff’s absence, Presiding Judge Top Chhunheng decided to postpone the trial, but did not say when it would resume.

All four defendants live in Kilometr Pram Muoy commune’s Boeng Chhuk village. Fifty other residents of the village rallied outside the court to demand that the charges be dropped.

In addition to the dispute with the evasive Mr. Tung Ngy, the village has been facing the threat of eviction since November 21, when City Hall distributed a notice ordering them to relocate or be forcibly removed. The notice says the city needs their land for a planned road expansion.

“I think they are related,” said Khiev Chenda, another defendant, of the court case and eviction notice.

Ms. Chenda, 40, explained that in 2009, local authorities destroyed six homes in the village, claiming they had been built on land belonging to the city. Villagers then rebuilt in the same spot, only to receive another notice from authorities in 2010 saying the land actually belonged to Mr. Tung Ngy, she said.

All four defendants said they had lived on the land since the 1990s.

Although local authorities have yet to follow through with their eviction threat, 26 homes in the village burnt to the ground on December 20 and their former occupants suspect foul play.

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