Men Arrested in S’ville Property Dispute Released

Three Sihanoukville villagers arrested Thursday after a violent confrontation with military police over a land dispute were released Monday after Prime Minister Hun Sen interceded on their behalf, an Adhoc official said.

Hun Sen also pledged to personally pay the men $250 each and give villager Vath Pheap—who was shot through both hands and in his thigh by military police—$750, said Adhoc investigator Chan Chamroeun.

Hun Sen flew by helicopter to Sihanoukville on Monday morning and met with 50 aggrieved villagers at noon, pledging that local officials would return their land within a week, said Chan Chamroeun, who was present at the meeting.

“He arrived here to solve the problems of the people,” he said. “Hun Sen apologized to villagers about what government officials did wrong.”

Violence broke out in Mittapheap district’s Commune 3 on Thursday after villagers tore down a fence put up around their homes by a local developer, the Thai Boon Roong company, which plans to build a resort.

Chan Chamroeun said Hun Sen reprimanded local officials for letting the land dispute get out of hand. He pledged to give 125 local families 16 hectares of land, even though they only claim 13.75 hectares as theirs. “The surplus land will be kept for building a new road and rest area,” Chan Chamroeun said.

Villager Heang Sopheavin, 33, who accompanied her neighbor Vath Pheap to a Phnom Penh hospital for treatment for his gunshot wounds, said: “There is only Samdech to help us. If Samdech did not help us, who will help us?”

Sihanoukville Municipal Gover-nor Say Hak and his deputy, Sbong Sarath, could not be reached for comment.

Chum Bun Rong, the Deputy Secretary-General of the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes, said he was unfamiliar with the case and referred questions to the authority’s secretary-general, Svay Sitha, who he said had gone to Sihanoukville with Hun Sen.

Svay Sitha could not be reached for comment.

Heang Nin, municipal military police chief, declined to comment, referring questions to CTN news anchor Soy Sopheap.

SRP Deputy Secretary-General Mu Sochua said Hun Sen’s effective intercession was clear evidence that the courts of Cambodia are not free from political influence.

“Hun Sen interfered in a court case. Please let the court take legal action,” she said. She added that local authorities should have investigated the land dispute instead of shooting and jailing villagers.

Sihanoukville Municipal Court Prosecutor Meas Sopheak confirmed that the men had been released but declined to comment further.

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