Villagers Charged, Not Held, in Ly Yong Phat Dispute

Following a full day of questioning, Kompong Speu Provincial Court charged three villagers involved in a land dispute with CPP senator Ly Yong Phat with arson and destruction of property yesterday, villagers and their lawyer said.

Judge Keo Mony charged Sar Than, Dol Leang, and Chin Sarom over offences allegedly committed in March but did not detain them, according to Yim Savath, a lawyer from the Community Legal Education Center who represented the trio.

“We are happy that the judge decided not to detain them in prison, but our defense lawyers are not satisfied yet because our clients have been charged for crimes they never committed,” Mr Savath said.

However his clients have been ordered to report to the local police on the 30th of every month until they are brought to trial, failing which they may be arrested, he said, adding that he would ask the court to drop all charges.

On March 18, about 500 villagers from Thpong district’s Omlaing commune set fire to a pair of shelters belonging to Mr Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company after they accused the company of encroaching on their land.

The three villagers were among five residents identified as suspects, and were summoned for questioning after charges against the other two suspects were dropped in May. Neither Judge Mony nor deputy prosecutor Khut Sopheang could be reached yesterday.

“I am not a perpetrator. There is no justice for poor people,” said Dol Leang, one of the trio.

About 300 villagers assembled in front of the courthouse to support their neighbors.

Khuon Sophat, one of the villagers, said they had previously been blocked from attending the court.

“The local authority’s attitude has changed. In the past we were stopped by armed forces from traveling to the provincial town,” he said.

Ouch Leng, a monitor for the human rights group Adhoc, condemned the decision yesterday

“[We] don’t want to see the use of the court system to press charges against and to silence villagers protesting for their land rights,” he said.


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