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Trial Begins for 13 Villagers in Clash Over Sihanoukville Land

Sihanoukville Municipal Court began hearings against 13 villagers arrested in April after they clashed with baton-wielding security forces trying to drive them from their homes.

Human rights officials have decried the arrests, claiming the villagers have been unjustly held, and that the land dispute, which ousted more than 100 families from property in the coastal city, should be resolved.

About 150 police, military police and soldiers clashed with an entire neighborhood of families April 20, on orders to clear the land. The security forces used electric batons, wooden batons, shields, fire hoses and teargas to clear about 105 families from houses in six villages in Mittaphiep district, Sihanoukville.

Chan Chamroeun, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc, told VOA Khmer some of the suspects had confessed to the courts they had thrown objects at the detail, but others denied any aggression.

"Some people say that they threw things because the police beat them," Chan Chamroeun said. "They threw things, but those things did not hit [the detail] since it was from a distance.

They saw the security forces advancing and wanted to prevent them "from burning their houses," he said.

"Some people say that they only carried out their belongings, and police arrested them," he said. "Some other people say they threw things, only when the police threw things at them too, and they threw things back and forth. Other people did not say they did not throw things, and they were carrying out their belongings, and carrying their children, and the police arrived, saw what they were doing and grabbed their hands."

Kek Galabru, founder of the rights group Licadho, said the plaintiffs in the case—police and soldiers who were allegedly attacked—did not show the courts they remembered the faces of their attackers.

"I don't know what the court will decide," she said. "In my opinion, I say that if there was no witness who saw that the 13 people commit the offense, then the court would have released 13 people already."

Nine witnesses testified for the accused, she said.

"I saw them speak one by one, saying the people in charge beat [the villagers]," she said.