Kampot Villagers Say Politician Not Involved in Land Dispute

Two villagers released on bail by the Kampot Provincial Court on Wednesday on charges of illegally clearing part of a social land concession for retired soldiers said Thursday they would not stop clearing the plot.

Ly Kemthuy, 34, and Ly Kemheang, 47, were released on bail after spending 16 days in prison for illegally clearing public land and obstructing authorities inside the 1,337-hectare concession in Chhuk district’s Decho Aphivat commune.

On Wednesday, deputy provincial governor Heng Vantha said that the men had admitted to clearing the land as part of a scheme hatched by League for Democracy Party President Khem Veasna, but the villagers denied that Thursday.

Mr. Kemthuy said he had only ever protected his own 4 hectares of land inside the concession, which he began occupying in 2006 after moving to the area from Prey Veng. He said he was also hired to help clear land belonging to a neighbor, Ly Kimhong.

“The court asked why I cleared land for Khem Veasna. I told them I do not know who Khem Veasna is. I was just a villager responsible for the land of Ly Kimhong, and I cleared it because he gives me $50 and a bag of rice every month.”

Mr. Kemthuy said he would not give up the land he had claimed.

“I will continue to clear the land because I came to stay here before the families of the retired soldiers,” he said. “I am not afraid, because I have done nothing wrong.”

Mr. Kemheang said he had never obstructed authorities from clearing land for the retired soldiers and had only come to watch as they measured a plot near his own 1.4 hectares, which he said he occupied in 2006 after coming to the area from Kompong Cham.

“The court asked why I obstructed authorities,” he said. “I told the court that I did not obstruct authorities. I just came to look while the authorities were measuring the land.”

Mr. Veasna, a former lawmaker, has repeatedly denied any role in the dispute, and said that he only sent a group of student demonstrators to support villagers involved in the dispute inside the concession after they reached out to him.

Mr. Vantha, the deputy provincial governor, said he would order the men rearrested if they continued to clear land inside the concession while out on bail. He also said authorities were still seeking to apprehend a third man, Ly Kimhong, to determine his role in the dispute.

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