Preah Vihear Provincial Court last week questioned five community representatives from Prame commune over allegations that they had issued a death threat to a man who had been clearing contested land in Tbeng Meanchey district. The group was released but remained under court supervision while the investigation continues.
Preah Vihear Provincial Court prosecutor, Ty Sovin Thal, said the investigating judge allowed them to return home and that charges of issuing a death threat and threatening to cause damage could well be dropped.
The judge found, he said, that “they cannot be detained as this is a petty crime, and this leads to the acquittal. Thus, when the investigation is complete, the charges might be dropped.”
Lut Sang, a lawyer for the five, said that Ly Kim Sreng had filed a complaint to the court saying he had received death threats after trying to clear land he said he had legally rented and accused the defendants of leading a group of more than 100 villagers to block his tractors in February 2022. Kim Sreng said he had rented the land from Hengfu, a Chinese sugar company that held some 40,000 hectares from 2011 to 2020, when the company pulled out, and which had long faced disputes over their economic land concession.
Community members, many of them members of the Kouy indigenous minority, who have lived on the land for decades, maintain that the land is rightfully theirs and that it holds cultural significance.
While the judge released the group without charges, said Sang, “he imposes two bans, firstly, if they make a change of living place, they must inform the investigating judge. Secondly, in relation to all court issuance, they need to come and clarify,”Lut Sang said.
Sut Savorn, a representative from Bos Thom village who was among the five questioned, denied the allegations but said that community members did try to bar Kim Sreng’s tractors. He added that villagers had been living there long before the Hengfu company arrived on the land.
Though the dispute had yet to be resolved, he said, Kim Sreng arrived in early 2022 saying he had rented about 600 hectares of land in Sre Preang village from Hengfu. On February 1, 2022, tractors, along with local authorities, appeared on the land and about 100 villagers arrived to confront them.
“We did not use anything [weapons], just all of us who were crowded at that time just went to stop them from plowing and ask for a solution,” Savorn said.
During questioning, said Savorn, the judge asked about his whereabouts in February and whether he used violence. He said the others who were summoned for questioning are Thorng Visot, Thab Sokhey, and Roeung Khann, from Prame village, and Ngon Him, from Sre Preang village.
Kim Sreng filed his complaint in February, and the prosecution charged all five with threatening to kill and threatening to cause damage under Article 233 and 423 of the criminal code. If found guilty of both crimes they could face up to two years and six months in prison.