More than 200 villagers engaged in a land dispute with a ruling party senator traveled to the provincial capital of Kampong Speu province on Tuesday, prepared to protest charges being brought against three of their representatives.
The villagers of Om Lieng commune, Thpong district, say they are being pushed from their land by the sugar plantation of Cambodian People's Party Senator Ly Yong Phat. The ongoing dispute has led to a number of violent protests.
Kampong Speu provincial court has summoned three villagers for questioning on Wednesday, as the courts investigate charges that protesters burned down company buildings in March. Villagers who gathered in the town Tuesday say they do not want to see arrests come as a result of the questioning.
The three village representatives—Chin Sarum, 35; Dul Leang, 41; and Sar Than, 36—face charges of incitement, arson and conspiracy for the fire. They spent Tuesday in the office of the rights group Adhoc, as 200 protesters encamped in front of the court. All three said they would go in for questioning on Wednesday.
“I cannot accept the charges against me,” Chin Sarum told VOA Khmer Tuesday. “I will come to the court following with the court’s order. I do not escape the court. [But] I did not incite the villagers to damage. I did not burn down the company’s property. The charges against me are not fair and are completely slanderous.”
Protesters say they will demand the charges be dropped and will demand a thorough investigation of the land dispute, which has pitted the villagers against the Phnom Penh Sugar Industrial Co., Ltd.
“The villagers have gathered to unite their forces to pressure the court not to arrest the three accused,” aid Ouch Leng, a land project officer for Adhoc. “They are not illegal in expressing their demands that the court provide justice to them, because the land dispute has not been resolved, but the courts are charging the villagers one by one.”
Keo Pisey, provincial police chief, said police are watching the protesters and will allow will allow them to gather on Wednesday.