Villagers Granted Bail in Land Concession Dispute

Two villagers jailed earlier this month over a land dispute in Kampot province that authorities blame on League for Democracy Party president Khem Veasna were released on bail Wednesday, hours after Mr. Veasna told the media at a press conference that he had lost contact with them.

Kampot Provincial Court prosecutor Ek Chhenghuot said Wednesday afternoon that he had signed the necessary papers to bail Ly Kemthuy, 34, and Ly Kemheang, 47, who are awaiting trial on charges of illegally clearing public land and obstructing authorities.

“We have signed to release the pair on bail after a lawyer came to see me and request the bail today,” Mr. Chhenghuot said.

Deputy provincial prison chief Em Bor confirmed that the men had been released.

“I received the court order this afternoon and I released the pair at about 5 p.m.,” he said.

Mr. Kemthuy and Mr. Kemheang were seized by police in Chhuk district’s Decho Aphivat commune on September 8, the day after they returned from a protest in Phnom Penh demanding that a 1,337-hectare social land concession in the commune be divided up as promised by the government.

The pair was among a group of villagers—many of whom say they lived inside the 1,337 hectares before it was granted as a concession —who lay claim to parts of the land and had traveled to Phnom Penh to assert their demands.

Deputy provincial military police commander Sem Soeun said his authorities were now focused on another man, Ly Kimhong.

“We just found out about Ly Kimhong, who has occupied ten hectares of public land,” he said. “We will arrest the man if he leads people to clear public land again, because we have kept the land for the families of retired soldiers.”

Authorities accuse Mr. Veasna, a former opposition lawmaker, of inciting the villagers to claim parts of the concession so that he can buy it from them, and deputy provincial governor Heng Vantha repeated the claim Wednesday.

“We already questioned the two jailed villagers, and they told us they cleared the land for Khem Veasna,” he said.

At a press conference in Phnom Penh that Mr. Veasna called Wednesday morning, he complained he had been unable to locate the two arrested villagers since their arrests. He also emphasized that his interest in the dispute was only in providing moral support to his supporters.

“I have no land in that area. But had I bought land there, it would not be illegal, as I would have bought the land from people legally.”

Mr. Kimhong, the villager being sought by military police, also appeared at the press conference. He said Mr. Veasna had not encouraged any villagers in Decho Aphivat to dispute the land and that his own family had lived there for a long time.

“The land I stay on nowadays belongs to my family, but the authorities confiscated it,” he said.

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