Thirteen Political Party Members Charged in Land Dispute

Thirteen members of the League for Democracy Party (LDP) were charged with property damage and illegally claiming land on Tuesday after destroying crops on state land in Kampot province over the weekend, court officials said on Tuesday.

The men were arrested on Saturday and questioned at the Kampot Provincial Court over accusations they had destroyed a villager’s crops and tried to seize a quarter-hectare plot on a social land concession in Chhuk district’s Techo Aphivat commune.

They were charged with aggravated and intentional destruction of another’s property and taking possession of public property, said provincial court prosecutor Khan Sophal.

“The 13 people were charged by Investigating Judge Kheav Phanna and they are now at the provincial prison for provisional detention,” he said.

The two crimes carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a fine of up to 10 million riel, or about $2,500.

Hundreds of fellow LDP members rallied at the provincial police headquarters on Sunday to demand the group’s release. They said the men had only defended the property of Ly Kim Hong, a party member who is involved in a lengthy dispute with his sister over the plot of land.

LDP spokesman Kao Kea defended the 13 on Tuesday and took issue with the court for singling out party members rather than prosecuting families who had been “illegally” occupying the land.

“I just want to ask the provincial authorities why they have only arrested our members and why they have not arrested other families, because they are living on the same social land concession,” he said.

Mr. Kea said provincial authorities had banned further demonstrations, but he planned to defy the order by leading a protest against the court’s decision and calling for the release of the jailed activists today.

Sim Vuthea, a deputy provincial governor, dismissed Mr. Kea’s claims that authorities had unfairly targeted party members, saying only those who “committed a crime” were prosecuted.

“We arrested the 13 people because they committed a crime,” he said.

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