Opposition councilor held in land dispute

Source: Khmer Times

A villager and a CNRP councilor have been detained in a long-running land dispute in Kampong Thom province’s Prasat Ballangk district.
A team of police and officers from the provincial forestry administration on Friday demolished the homes of 17 families living on three hectares of disputed land in Thmar Samleang village in Kraya commune.
The authorities claim the constructions had been built illegally on forest land, but villagers say they were there first.
During the crackdown, police arrested a villager identified as Sok Chan Thoeun and Kraya commune’s CNRP councilor Neth Sao.
The two have been detained while the provincial court considers the case.
Tep Nheata, a provincial forestry official, told Radio Free Asia his department had filed three complaints against Mr. Chan Thoeun since 2014. He is accused of encroaching on forest land.
Mr. Sao was arrested for obstructing forestry officers, he added, saying the local politician faces between one and five years behind bars if convicted.
Mam Sitha, chief of the Human Rights Organization for Transparency and Peace, has been monitoring the land dispute and said she would make sure the detained men had access to lawyers.
She criticized the authorities for demolishing the 17 homes and preventing locals from protesting, saying these actions were intended to “break people’s spirit.”
She said: “During the crackdown, the authorities seem to have been well prepared. The police were chasing people but accused the villagers of using violence against the police.
“I call on Kampong Thom Provincial Court to drop charges against the two detainees based on the spirit of a fair and impartial investigation, rather than just believing police reports.”
She said she will meet the lawyer for the detained men today, to find a way to help them.

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