Villagers Charged With Destruction of Property in KDC Clashes

Two villagers embroiled in a long-running land dispute with the well-connected KDC company were charged Tuesday with intentional destruction of property and causing injuries during clashes with workers at the disputed development site in Kompong Chhnang province last week.

On Monday, provincial police arrested 30-year-old Mang Yav and 34-year-old Seang Heng for their alleged involvement in violent clashes on July 17, in which 10 KDC workers were injured, deputy provincial police chief Ly Virak said.

“So far, we have arrested two men over the violent clashes on the 17th and we sent them to court, where they were charged with intentionally destroying the property of a legal owner, as well as causing intentional injury,” he said.

He declined to say whether additional arrest warrants remain in the hands of police since fresh clashes broke out between workers and villagers who say their farmland in Kompong Tralach district was illegally grabbed by KDC, which is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.

“The investigation is still pending, so I cannot say,” he said.

Provincial court prosecutor You Tithwathanak confirmed that the two villagers are being held in pre-trial detention.

“The investigating judge decided to detain them in pretrial detention after charging them with two counts of offenses for intentionally damaging property and the aggravated use of violence,” he said.

The arrests have been remarkably swift compared to the sluggish pace with which the court system has handled the villagers’ long-standing complaints against the company, which took over the land in 2002 and began demarcating it with a canal five years later. Last week, villagers who filed an initial complaint against KDC in 2007 were told that their latest complaint has now been passed back to the provincial court form the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Mr. Heng’s wife, Khat Saruon, said police produced no warrant when they raided her home and “partly tore down the roof” in order to apprehend her husband.

Neither of the detained men is from Lor Peang village, which is at the center of the dispute, but residents of other villages in Ta Ches commune have shown their support for the cause, Lor Peang representative Oum Sophy said Tuesday.

“The arrest and detention of the two men is so unfair, since several villagers were seriously injured during the clashes with company workers,” she said.

“How come police just arrested poor people and not the company’s men who have carried machetes and…shoot at us with slingshots?

“It is a serious threat to use the court system to silence and frighten villagers from demanding their farmland, which was grabbed by this rich and powerful woman,” Ms. Sophy said.

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