Protesters Over Land Dispute Freed From Jail

The Appeals Court has ordered the release of two Poipet men jailed in September for leading a protest over a contested plot of land that sent villagers reaching for their axes last week to fend off a police eviction.

Appeals Court Judge Um Sarith moved to free villagers Ork Phanny, 39, and Men Kim Heng, 44, from the Banteay Meanchey provincial prison on Tuesday. Um Sarith turned down a motion by the Banteay Meanchey provincial court prosecutor, who denied the men bail despite an investigating judge’s ruling to release them.

The villagers in September led a protest against the seizure of a 280-meter-by-220-meter plot of land located beside a casino golf course in O’Chrou district’s Kbal Spean village. That protest was one of many spats between local government officials and 218 former landless families, who claimed land ownership after they were re­moved from Poipet’s streets and pushed onto the property in 1997.

Legal Aid of Cambodia lawyer Ea Sopheap, the defendants’ attorney, said the ruling was just. He added that he will continue to wage a battle for the land. In 1999 villa­g­ers lost a court case to village Chief Tin Oun, who claimed land ownership shortly after a casino started developing a nearby plot. Villagers also lost their 2001 appeals case.

Villagers used axes and knives last week to deter more than 100 police officers assigned to protect workers meant to dismantle families’ homes.

On Tuesday, villager Prum Rin said families are scared to leave the land for fear that police will grab it while they are out.

Police have not returned to the village since last week’s standoff, Banteay Meanchey provincial Deputy Police Chief Chhoeung Sokhom said Tuesday.


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