Villagers petition for release of trio in NGO dispute

Preah Vihear province villagers sent petitions yesterday to the provincial court and the provincial governor calling for the release of three villagers who have accused NGO staff of land grabbing, extortion and rape, villagers and rights officials said.

Some 40 villagers signed the petitions asking for the release of the three, who were charged on Sept 16 with incitement, disinformation and forgery for allegedly faking signatures on a complaint against the NGO accusing it of various rights abuses, said Chan Soveth, senior monitor for local rights group Adhoc.

The court complaint against the three villagers was made by the Organization for Research and Curbing Drugs and AIDS, which runs a 556-hectare social land concession in Choam Ksan district’s Kantuot commune where the villagers live.

“They did not make any mistake,” Mr Soveth said of the three charged villagers. “The court should not detain them.”

Last week a lawyer for the villagers submitted a letter asking for their release on bail, but the court has yet to respond, he added.

Court President Sor Savuth could not be reached for comment yesterday, but he has said he would not release the trio because the case is under investigation.

Villager Srey Pheakdey, 30, said she signed yesterday’s petitions because the three detained villagers “did not do anything wrong” and vowed to protest if they were kept in prison.

Also yesterday, members of Adhoc and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee met with provincial authorities over the dispute. The rights groups largely corroborated the villagers’ claims of abuse after a 15-day site visit last month.

“We wanted to push the authorities to investigate on the issue and help the villagers,” Mr Soveth said, adding that provincial deputy governor Suy Serith said at the meeting that authorities would investigate.

Mr Serith declined to comment, saying he was busy.

Provincial police chief Mao Pov said he met separately with the rights groups and told them he had found “no human rights violations.” He added that he would continue his investigation.

Mr Pov said the police had arrested one suspect for alleged rape in the NGO’s concession but said he could not remember the suspect’s name or date of arrest.


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