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Sihanoukville Court to Hear Land-Grabbing Case

Sihanoukville municipal court on Tuesday will hear the cases of 13 arrested villagers following a land dispute that ended in violent clashes with security forces in April.

Opposition leaders and rights advocates made an appeal the court Monday to try the villagers fairly, or release them entirely, in a case related to the ousting of more than 100 families from their homes, which authorities say were illegal.

The 13 suspects say they were attacked by police during a dispute April 20, when about 150 soldiers, military police and police clashed with protesters. The security forces used electric batons, shields and tear gas and burned down some 60 homes in Mittapheap district in Sihanoukville, officials say.

Opposition legislator Eng Chhay Eang, along with rights groups, appealed to the court to release the villagers.

"The court should condemn the department in charge instead because the department was the one to evict the people from their houses," he said. "There was no court decree, and it is a serious violation of the law.... The department in charge used force to evict the people. It is proper that the department in charge should be condemned. Those people who were victims should be released so justice will be done."

Cambodia Center for Human Rights Director Ou Vireak said high-ranking officials were conspicuously missing from proceedings.

"In this case, I do not see high-ranking people, the perpetrators, and those in power being tried," he said. "We only see the people and the weak being tried. I say it is not right. Everybody should be tried. Those who have violated [the law], on the issue resulting in violence, inflicting wounds and arson, should be tried."