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Siem Reap Court Questions Villagers Named in APSARA’s Lawsuits

Siem Reap villagers gather in front of Siem Reap provincial court to support four people who were questioned by the court on November 24, 2023. (Licadho)
Siem Reap villagers gather in front of Siem Reap provincial court to support four people who were questioned by the court on November 24, 2023. (Licadho)

Siem Reap Provincial Court questioned four villagers, including a commune police officer for allegedly obstructing public work, and for intentionally causing damage and violence.

Provincial court spokesperson Yin Srang confirmed that the four people have been allowed to return home after questioning.

“They have just been questioned by the prosecutor, and we don’t know what the next procedure is yet,” he said, declining to comment further.

In August, APSARA National Authority filed two separate ​​​​​lawsuits against six villagers and a commune police chief. While one of the summonses was against the four villagers including the policeman, another was issued to the villagers for allegedly inciting other villagers.

The lawsuits were brought by APSARA after hundreds of villagers protested against its attempt to demolish illegal structures on August 8, following a notice that was issued in Prasat Bakong district’s Meanchey commune.

Villagers in the second summons for incitement had already been questioned on October 23, and now await the next procedure in court.

About 100 villagers gathered outside the court to support their neighbors on Friday. 

Suong Seak, one of four villagers who was questioned, called on court officials to drop the charges against him because he did not obstruct public work or cause any violence against the authority.

“The court asked [me] about the use of violence against APSARA authority, but I did not use any violence,” he asserted.

“I don’t agree with what they have accused me of because I did nothing,” Seak said. He added that APSARA failed to demolish his tent and a front structure measuring four by six meters when he and other villagers protested against them in August.

“The additional front structure for my house was built to prevent leakage when it rains, otherwise what do I do [when it rains]?” Seak said.

Siem Reap villagers gather in front of Siem Reap provincial court to support four people who were questioned by the court on November 24, 2023. (Licadho)

Rolous commune police chief Rai Vanna declined to elaborate after being questioned by the court on Friday.

“It is just normal questioning but I can’t tell you because the leader is not allowed to provide information to you [the media],” he said. “I am not concerned because I didn’t commit what they have charged [me with].”

Two other villagers, Var Chamnab and Klork Kuyba, who were named in the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment.

APSARA National Authority spokesperson Long Kosa declined to comment on the court case as court officials are working the procedure.

“I don’t have any comment relating to the court procedure because the court is an independent institution and we have to respect its jurisdiction,” he said.

“[According to] our principle any construction or building which is illegal is a topic for demolition,” Kosal said, when asked how APSARA would resolve the issue involving the construction of the structures by the villagers.

NGO rights group Licadho coordinator for the northern province Ing Kongchet​ said the court should drop the charges because the villagers did not commit any violence against the authorities.

“According to my interview with them, they claimed to not have committed those offenses because they were just gathered there to voice their opinion and request the authority to help fix old roofs or tents.

“They didn’t use violence or damage the properties of the authorities. APSARA authority angered hundreds of villagers, who were gathered there to protest which stopped [the authority] from carrying out its work,” Kongchet said.

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