Preah Vihear villagers summoned to court for ‘detaining’ bulldozer
by Niem Chheng
An investigative judge at the Preah Vihear provincial court warned that he would issue arrest warrants for two NGO staff and about 10 Kuoy indigenous villagers in relation to a land dispute with two companies if they failed to appear in court on Wednesday.
In a summons dated September 27, Judge Chean Sros summoned Poek Sophorn and Lut Sang, both employees of the Ponlok Khmer NGO based in Preah Vihear, to appear in court on November 14 for questioning concerning a charge of “arrest, detention, and unlawful confinement”.
“The individuals must bring along documents related to the case if they possess them. [If they decline] to appear at the above-mentioned date, we will issue an arrest warrant,” read the summon letters dated September 27 which villagers only received on Saturday.
On Sunday, Poek Sophorn said that back in December 2014, some 300 villagers stopped about six bulldozers operated by the Lan Feng and Ruy Feng companies that were clearing the land in dispute with the villagers.
The villagers held the drivers and two of the bulldozers for a night before the authority brought them and the vehicles to the Brame commune hall, before taking the drivers away.
“At that time, I went to monitor the matter in case the villagers wanted to set fire to the bulldozers. About 2km from the village, we saw the authorities, companies’ representatives and a prosecutor stop and take photos of us."
“They saw me and Lut Sang and took photos of us. Then I left for my workplace because it was already late afternoon,” Sophorn said.
He said the court had already summoned villagers and him once in mid-2015 and some villagers had appeared in court already. However, he did not appear because his name was written wrongly. He said he also returned the summons this time as his name was still wrong.
Lor Chann, an Adhoc coordinator in Preah Vihear, said on Sunday that 10 villagers were accused of illegal detention and confinement and two Ponlok Khmer NGO staff members were accused of being accomplices.
However, Chann believed that the 12 accused did not commit the crime of which they have been accused.
“They kept the bulldozers at the commune hall, but the companies sued them for illegally confining people and the bulldozers. The bulldozer drivers did not leave because they feared the villagers would burn the vehicles."
“The people did not confine the drivers because they did not block them from leaving or put them in a room or at any place. The fact is that the drivers were in an open space. They could go anywhere they wanted to, but they stayed there to protect their bulldozers,” he said.
Chann said some people had tried to stop the bulldozers several times before they eventually decided to seize them and seek a solution from the authority.
The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) said in a statement on Saturday that the two bulldozers were given back to their owners last year.