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Two Protesters Released After Senator Visits Court

Villagers in Kampong Speu protest against Phnom Penh Sugar Company for land grabbing.
Villagers in Kampong Speu protest against Phnom Penh Sugar Company for land grabbing.

Kampong Speu provincial court has withdrawn charges against two men accused of incitement in an ongoing land dispute between villagers and a powerful ruling party senator.

Yu Tho, 62, and Kim Reththy, 30, had been accused of burning a bulldozer and buildings of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company in Omlieng commune, Thpong district, which is also facing angry villagers who say they have been pushed from their land.

Both men were arrested March 23 and held through March 29, but their detention sparked a prolonged protest by hundreds of villagers and they were eventually released on bail.

Kampong Speu judge Keo Mony wrote in a signed decision that the court would not uphold the charges, as investigators had determined neither was in the area at the time of the March 18 attack on Phnom Penh Sugar’s facilities.

Yu Tho, who is an Omlieng commune councilor, told VOA Khmer on Monday the court letter had been hand-delivered to him on Sunday by the owner of the company, Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat.

Ly Yong Phat visited Omlineg over the weekend and held a public meeting to explain the company’s activities in the area, where he plans to grow and process sugarcane.

The senator had an individual meeting with Yu Tho and gave him 10 boxes of dried noodles. Ly Yong Phat claimed the company’s arrival would mean more work for people, and he urged them to cease their protests, Yu Tho said.

Ly Yong Phat was not immediately available for comment.

Chheang Kim Sun, a representative of the company, confirmed Monday that Ly Yong Phat and Yu Tho had met but he said he was not sure what the senator had decided.

Those efforts did not allay worries that the company was pushing people from their land.

“I’m not so happy with the withdrawal of the case, but what I’m thinking is that my people’s land was grabbed by the company,” Yu Tho said Monday.