Villagers Protest After Land Dispute Leader’s Arrest

More than 100 villagers protested yesterday outside Kandal Provincial Court, demanding the release of their representative in a land dispute with the Heng Development Corporation who was arrested earlier this month, a local rights worker said.

Men Makara, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said 44-year-old Vorn Vin was arrested on Sept 4 and charged with land grabbing and inciting violence after leading demonstrations against Heng Development in Kandal Stung district. According to Mr Makara, Mr Vin is being held in provincial prison while the two other men named on the warrant for his arrest, Ien Yan and Chea Hy, remain at large.

Sieng Chanheng, owner of Heng Development, and provincial prosecutor Ok Kimsith both declined to comment

Mr Makara said Heng Development, which was awarded a 150-hectare plot of land in 2005 and subsequently displaced 192 local families, filed a complaint with the court against Mr Vin in November for clearing a piece of their land.

“We are now preparing a lawyer for Mr Makara to make a bail request,” Mr Makara said.

Judge Thear Bunnar said yesterday that that the court would give due consideration to a bail request if it received one from Mr Vin’s lawyer, but reiterated that Mr Vin had been encouraging villagers to clear company land and allegedly did so himself.

“If they had not done anything wrong, the prosecutor would not have submitted introductory submission against them,” Mr Bunnar said.

Mr Vin’s 23-year-old wife Thy Soy insisted on her husband’s innocence.

“My husband did not grab the company land or incite violence like the company has accused him of doing,” said Ms Soy. “We want the court to release him today.”

Yesterday’s protest was neither the first nor the most heated demonstration sparked by Heng Development land concessions in Kandal Stung. In January 2009, 150 villagers protested outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in Phnom Penh after military police assisting the company in clearing a 300-hectare concession in the district allegedly shot two villagers as they attempted to stop bulldozers.


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