Two men in Ratanakkiri province were arrested on April 22 and the provincial court has issued arrest warrants for an additional six men involved in a land dispute with the well-connected local construction company DM Group, officials and human rights groups said Monday.
Pich Ponlok, 40, and Pring Vin, 17, both members of the Phnong ethnic minority, were arrested in their homes in Lumphat district’s Batang commune following accusations of trespassing and destroying property belonging to DM Group, deputy district police chief Chan Narith said. The alleged incident happened on Nov 22 last year, and village representative Yang Thang has been in detention since early December, he added.
“The arrests were made in accordance to arrest warrants issued by the judge,” Mr Chan Narith said.
Reached by telephone Monday, Judge Thor Saran confirmed he had issued the warrants on April 1. Thor Saran denied that his court was biased in favor of the company.
“These men dared to beat up police and court officials to rescue fugitives when we invited two men for questioning,” the judge said. At least 40 villagers clashed with police outside the courthouse in December while protesting the arrest of Mr Yang Thang.
About 50 families in Batang commune have accused DM Group of grabbing more than 200 hectares of their land. The villagers filed a complaint in 2005, according to rights group Adhoc, but court officials deny they received a complaint from villagers—only from DM Group.
But provincial Adhoc coordinator Pen Bonnar said it wasn’t until after the villagers filed their complaint that the DM Group countersued, accusing the villagers of trespassing, destroying property and threatening its workers.
“These [court] officials are absolutely working in favor of the company,” Mr Pen Bonnar said Monday.