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Court charges villagers over land dispute with Chinese firm

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Indigenous people seized Chinese machinery in Preah Vihear province in 2014. Supplied

Court charges villagers over land dispute with Chinese firm

The Preah Vihear Provincial Court has placed more than 10 ethnic Kuoy villagers and an NGO official under court supervision on charges of collusion to detain and confine people illegally over a dispute with a Chinese-owned company.

Investigating Judge Chien Sros issued a letter informing the accused of the wrap-up of an investigation late last month.

The defendants, who had not received the letter until Wednesday, have called on the court to drop all charges against them, citing injustice and an abuse of their rights.

The letters said Ponlok Khmer NGO officials Poek Sophorn and Lout Saing are placed under court supervision on charges of collusion in illegal detention and confinement.

The letter said Pang Sev, Phon Rum, Phou Phen, Norm Thol, Hor Theany, They Hoeun, Yun Sorn, Sral Sokhy and their accomplices are also under court supervision, but on charges of illegal detention and confinement under Article 253 of the Criminal Code.

The offences were allegedly committed in Tbeng Meanchey district’s Brame commune on December 29, 2014.

The case stemmed from a land dispute between the Chinese firm, Lan Feng, and the ethnic Kuoy community who accused the company of encroaching on their ancestral land after it was granted an economic land concession by the government in 2011 for rubber, acacia and sugarcane plantation.

The villagers and Ponlok Khmer staffers said the court charged them for detaining a tractor driver on the disputed land in December 2014. However, they claimed that at the time they only stopped the tractor from clearing their land and did not detain the driver.

Toch Kum, an older sister of ethnic Kuoy defendant Sral Sokhy, told The Post on Thursday that the charges against her brother and other ethnic Kuoy villagers were unfair. She claimed the community rightfully own the land and had cultivated it for years.

“It is not right when they do this to the villagers. I think by placing my brother and the villagers under court supervision, the court has muzzled our rights and freedom."

“The court should drop the charges because the supervision, which requires them to appear before the court once a month, has restricted our freedom to travel. We need to go about our business,” she said.

Poek Sophorn, the Ponlok Khmer official who was charged along with the villagers, told The Post that he was surprised the court had just wrapped up its investigation.

He called on the court to provide justice for the villagers, whom he said should have received compensation for their land instead of an unfair lawsuit.

“I hope the court will do the villagers justice. The company has successfully retained the land for its plantation while the community lost land that belongs to them."

“It is also unfair for the Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to report that the land dispute had been solved when it is actually ongoing,” he said.

Provincial court spokeswoman Chum Kaniya declined to comment, saying she did not have the case files on hand.

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