Villagers Arrested at Siem Reap Protest Charged With Incitement

Two villagers arrested in Siem Reap province on Monday during a protest over a land dispute were charged with incitement by the provincial court Tuesday, their lawyer said.

The villagers, Tang La, 52, and Chhun Nath, 37, were charged with inciting villagers in their community in Banteay Srei district’s Tbeng commune to clear state forest, according to their lawyer, Mon Keosivin.

“The prosecutor charged them with incitement to commit a felony,” he said.

The villagers are from a community of 500 families that since 2006 has been involved in a land dispute with the Forestry Administration, which says the families have illegally seized and cleared a 350-hectare parcel of state forest. The villagers say they are living in the area legally, though they admit they only settled there in 2002.

Ms. La and Mr. Nath were arrested during a protest that broke out on Monday after authorities burned down cottages on the disputed land.

During questioning by the provincial court Tuesday, Ms. La said she was innocent of the incitement charge, while Mr. Nath said he was not even one of the protesters, but got caught up in the demonstration on his way to buy potatoes, according to their lawyer.

“The court played the video clip that showed that he was in the crowd, but it did not show that he led the villagers [to protest],” Mr. Keosivin said, adding that both of his clients had been put into provisional detention at the provincial prison.

Court officials could not be reached.

Kun Eng, a representative of the villagers who helped organize Monday’s protest, said he and seven other people had gone into hiding for fear that they, too, would be arrested.

“I and seven other villagers are hiding from police because we heard that they are looking for the leader of the villagers,” he said.

Provincial police chief Sort Nady said his officers would not make additional arrests—for now.

“We are not looking for other people until we get a warrant from the court to arrest more,” he said.

dara@cambodiadaily.com

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