Representatives for nearly 300 villagers in Siem Reap’s Banteay Srei district delivered a petition yesterday to the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Council of Magistracy asking for intervention on behalf of a married couple who were arrested last month on suspicion of illegally occupying land belonging to an SRP defector to the CPP.
Vich Vy and his wife, Chhe Sambo, have been in pre-trial detention at the Siem Reap provincial prison since their Sept 4 arrest. Warrants had been issued for seven villagers involved in a dispute over land in two Tbeng commune villages claimed by former SRP member Lon Phun, but only the couple have been arrested thus far. Shortly after their arrest, the remaining five went into hiding in the jungle, according to village representatives.
Villagers have been farming on the disputed 173 hectares of land for decades, representative said.
“We have been living in both villages from before the Pol Pot regime. Even during the Pol Pot time we lived next to that village, we were not evacuated far away,” said villager representative Neam Bas.
According to Ho Chheng Ourn, a lawyer for the villagers, the land is not yet titled and the arrest is illegitimate.
“It is an injustice for my clients because this case is a civil case: If Mr Lon Phon, the latest buyer, wanted the 170 hectares [he should] solve this problem with land management department in Siem Reap, because those lands are not yet registered inside the management land list,” said Mr Ourn.
Mr Phon declined to comment beyond saying: “I am not involved in this land dispute at all.”
In the petition filed on behalf of the arrested couple, villagers noted not only their lengthy residence but also the couple’s four children, the eldest of whom is just 12, who have been living without parental supervision for the last month.
“It is hard to describe their living condition without their mother and father,” said representative, Peang Pok. “We plea to all levels of the government to help us and to release the couple on bail because children are living without their parents.”