Rights Group Appeals for Chi Kreng Villagers’ Freedom

A human rights group has petitioned Siem Reap Provincial Court to release 12 men on trial for their involvement in a violent land dispute in the province’s Chi Kreng district last year, a rights worker said yesterday.

Chan Soveth, head monitor for the human rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that Adhoc appealed to the provincial court on behalf of the jailed villagers on Saturday. “We would like [the court] to drop charges against them and set them free,” Mr Soveth said. “The villagers should not have been punished and jailed.”

The land dispute in Chi Kreng’s Anlong Samnor commune escalated into a violent confrontation in March 2009, when police allegedly opened fire on a group of farmers who claim authorities illegally plotted to sell 475 hectares of their farmland. Four farmers were injured in the shooting.

The trial of the nine villagers charged with attempted murder for their alleged involvement in the confrontation is set to resume today. Three other men are currently in prison facing different charges relating to the same land dispute.

Mr Soveth said the trial was unjust because the people who shot at villagers had never been apprehended, while the villagers have been behind bars. “They need to feed their families. Please let them reunite with their families,” he said.

Mean Horn, 55, wife of Khlin Eang, 57, whom police arrested in April on separate charges from the men on trial today, said yesterday that she hoped the villagers’ appeal would be heard by authorities. “Our farmland is lost and our husbands are jailed…. Please set them free,” Ms Horn said.

Last Tuesday, the court started, then subsequently postponed, the trial of the nine villagers. Asked whether the court would consider releasing the men, Siem Reap prosecutor Ty Sovannthal said yesterday the villagers would wait to see the verdict in their cases today.

Last month, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vattana wrote to Siem Reap Provincial Court, requesting that court officials speed up a long-running investigation into the violence in Chi Kreng last year. No one has been arrested or charged with shooting and injuring villagers during the dispute.

 

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