Kompong Speu Provincial Court yesterday questioned three villagers from Thpong district’s Omlaing commune over a 2008 land conflict with the Singaporean-owned HLH Agriculture Company, rights workers and a lawyer said.
Chan Soveth, chief monitor for the human rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that the three men had been summoned to answer accusations that they attempted to murder HLH employees during a protest in November 2008.
At the time, the protesting villagers claimed they had legal ownership of 28 of the 450 hectares of land earmarked for development by HLH.
However legal documents seen by Adhoc also indicate that RCAF Major General Prum Din, who sold the land to HLH in early 2008 prior to the protest, is also a plaintiff who accuses the men violent seizure of property.
Mr Soveth said the three men questioned yesterday–Hang Doeurn, Min Tek and Suong Davin–were originally the subject of a complaint last year but had only now been questioned by an investigating judge. Five other men accused of the same alleged offenses were questioned last year, Mr Soveth added.
A representative of HLH and Maj Gen Din were both unavailable yesterday.
However a lawyer representing Maj Gen Din, commander of the RCAF Special Region, which includes Phnom Penh, said yesterday that the complaint alleging the violent seizure of property had already been dropped because an agreement had been reached with villagers for cash settlements and land swaps.
The lawyer, Heng Poung, said that even though Maj Gen Din no longer owned the land at the time of the protest, he had sued to establish that the land was in fact his when he sold it to HLH.
“The out-of-court settlement has been reached, which is why my client decided to withdraw the complaint against those [eight] men,” Mr Poung said, adding that he had sent a letter last week advising the court that Maj Gen Din was dropping the complaint.
“The questioning [of the three men] was held to end the investigation,” he said.
Judge Song Bunnarith was unavailable yesterday but a man who answered up his telephone and claimed he was the judge’s clerk said: “I can confirm that the judge decided not to detain those three men.”
Long Lun, lawyer for the three men, said he believed that the judge had decided not to detain his clients because they were innocent.
“Such decision making is a good signal, possibly leading to a decision where the judge will drop the charges against these villagers,” Mr Lun said.
One of the accused who appeared in court yesterday, Mr Tek, said after his questioning that villagers had protested peacefully against HLH in 2008.
“There is no justice for the poor and we are becoming double victims of land disputes with two separate rich companies,” he said, referring to a more recent land dispute that Omlaing commune villagers have had with CPP senator and agribusiness tycoon Ly Yong Phat.
A violent confrontation between villagers and Ly Yong Phat Phnom Penh Sugar Company in March led to the arrest and detention of two men, both of whom were later acquitted after Mr Yong Phat dropped the charges in May.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said yesterday that the villagers had now been victimized twice.
“The judicial system, especially the court system, in Cambodia has been used as a tool to silence and jail land protesters,” he said, adding Licadho records show that in the past year, 62 land protesters have been detained in prisons throughout Cambodia.