The Siem Reap Provincial Court on Thursday released a woman held in pretrial detention over allegations of grabbing land from a senior RCAF official after she promised to move from the disputed land.
Three other villagers, who were detained along with Hem Ram, 49, on Oct 24, are refusing to drop their claim to the 20 hectares of land in Banteay Srei district’s Tbeng commune, and have not been released, Judge Khan Sokal said.
A lawyer representing the villagers expressed outrage Tuesday that his clients were being pressured in prison, by a judge of the court, to drop their land ownership claim, which had not yet gone to trial, in return for being granted their freedom.
Khan Sokal said that he ordered Hem Ram released after she signed a “confession” in which she said that she had moved onto the land, which is claimed by RCAF Deputy Provincial Commander Riem Sou, in early 2007. She also promised to move, he said.
“Generally, the detainee’s family must remove the house from the land before the release is made. But we feel sympathetic, which is why we require her to move her house tomorrow,” Khan Sokal said.
Khan Sokal said that he had made the same offer of freedom—in return for moving from the land—to Prok Nhan, 57, but was refused. Tan Tik, 26, and Khan Soeurn, 28, were also made the offer Thursday at the prison, he said.
“I don’t want to make any decision to jail these people though they have grabbed the land and property of others,” he added.
Riem Sou could not be contacted.
Sar Vannara, provincial investigator for local rights group Licadho, said that Hem Ram had agreed to sign the confession and move from the land because she was in poor health in prison.
“We are concerned now as to whether she will have a proper place to build a new house to live in,” Sar Vannara said.
Tbeng commune chief Heap Tha said earlier this week that the land claimed by Riem Sou was in fact state forest land that was granted to the military commander under a 1997 land concession. The 41 families involved in the dispute claim that they have farmed the disputed land for decades.
Heap Tha said Thursday there were many land disputes in his area—in some of which villagers have grabbed land for “commercial purposes”—and that district authorities would ask provincial authorities to find land for those truly landless.