Opposition Official Charged Over Land Clearing in Preah Sihanouk

After failing to respond to two court summonses issued last year, a former commune official from the legacy Sam Rainsy Party in Sihanoukville was charged this week with inciting people to clear state land—a claim his wife denied.

Chhay Rath, a former second deputy commune chief in Muoy commune, was accused of incitement to commit a felony for reportedly encouraging people to clear land near the Kbal Chhay waterfall, commune police chief Prak Sothea said on Wednesday.

The offense carries a possible sentence of six months to two years in prison and a fine of 1 to 4 million riel, or $250 to $1,000.

Mr. Rath, 45, was arrested on Tuesday at a coffee shop, three months after the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court issued a warrant for his arrest and detention on February 22, Mr. Sothea said.

Following his arrest, Mr. Rath was sent to the provincial court and then to the provincial prison to await trial, said Kol Phally, deputy provincial police chief.

“We enforced the arrest and detain warrant,” he said.

Ly Dy, deputy head of the CNRP’s provincial executive committee, said Mr. Rath was not included on the party’s candidate list for the June 4 commune elections because of his outstanding arrest warrant. He said he did not know how much land was allegedly cleared.

Prosecutor Chat Soreaksmey said she could not remember when the two summonses were issued last year and declined to comment further, saying she was in a meeting.

Contacted on Wednesday Sam Sarath, 37, Mr. Rath’s wife, denied the accusations against her husband, claiming people had cleared the land of their own volition. She said his only involvement was trying to ease tension between residents and authorities during a confrontation last year at Kbal Chhay.

Ms. Sarath said her husband had not ignored the court’s summonses but had asked for a delay in order to receive medical treatment. She defended him, saying he had tried to do a “good deed,” but was accused instead.

“I am really upset,” she said. “It is hard for me to accept.”

At the end of January, nearly all of the more than 100 families who were then still living on disputed land near the Kbal Chhay waterfall, a popular tourist destination and key water resource for Sihanoukville, were cleared from the site by state security forces.

The evictions were part of a land conflict involving about 3,000 families living on state land about 15 km from the coast.


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