Some 300 villagers in Kompong Speu province embroiled in a land dispute with CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat planned to gather at the provincial courthouse this morning, where three of their fellow villagers were scheduled for questioning on arson allegations.
The allegations stem from a March 18 incident in which a crowd of 500 residents of Thpong district’s Omlaing commune set fire to a pair of wood shelters belonging to Mr Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company. The protesters have accused the senator’s firm of encroaching on their ancestral farmland.
Sar Than, Dol Leang and Chin Sarom were among five villagers identified in March by deputy prosecutor Khut Sopheang as suspects in the alleged arson and destruction of property. After charges were dropped against the other two suspects in May, Judge Keo Mony summoned the trio for questioning in October.
Yin Savath, a lawyer for the Community Legal Education Center defending the three, said he hoped the show of support from their fellow villagers would encourage the judge not to bring charges or detain the suspects.
“We are going to ask the judge not to press charges or detain my clients, because there is no inculpatory evidence,” he said.
“We will stand peacefully in front of the courthouse to support the three, because they are not the perpetrators who set fire to and burned down the company’s shelters,” said San Thou, an Omlaing villager. “We are showing that the people are united but we don’t think we will be able to influence or pressure the judge.”
Chheang Kim Sun, a representative for the sugar firm and a police lieutenant colonel, insisted the three men were guilty.
“We are not suing innocent villagers,” she said, “Whoever commits the crime must be responsible before the law.”
Roth Thavy, a provincial investigator for the human rights group Adhoc, insisted otherwise.
“Based on my organization’s investigation into all the allegations…these people are innocent,” he said.