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Land Demonstrators Entrench Outside Court

At least 10 villagers were wounded in clashes with police Thursday who tried to prevent them from trucking in supplies for a sustained demonstrators over a court decision to hold two suspects in a Kampong Speu land dispute.

Around 500 villagers have maintained a demonstration in front of the provincial court, which on Wednesday ordered the detention of two villagers and arrest warrants of two others allegedly involved in the arson of property belonging to a powerful ruling party senator.

Upset villagers say they were pushed from their land by Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company.

Villagers said Thursday they ran afoul of police who prevented them from trucking in rice, iron pots and firewood to sustain their demonstration outside the Kampong Speu court.

“Policemen stayed along the road where they’ve never shown up like this, 30 km from our village,” said Sim Ton, one of 10 villagers in a van stopped by police.

“They checked the contents of our vehicle, and the police at the last station, they stopped us, stole our rice and threw it out,” she said. “They ordered us to go back home, and when I escaped and took a motorcycle taxi, they tried to catch me.”

Am Sam Ath, head of the investigation unit at the rights group Licadho, said police were attempting to intimidate people and to prevent their right of assembly.

However, Kampong Speu Governor Kang Heang said there was “no crackdown against villagers.”

The court “will not release the accused,” he said. “Villagers must struggle by legal means.”