Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court has charged eight people suspected of violating criminal and traffic laws after they were arrested during a land dispute protest on National Road 4 in the province’s Prey Nop district last week.
On Thursday and Friday, more than 100 people blocked the road as provincial authorities attempted to carry out a court decision to remove more than 600 illegally-built homes on private property in Bit Trang commune’s Chamnaot Ream village.
The incident resulted in the arrest of two people on Thursday and six more on Friday after protestors threw stones at authorities and their vehicles.
Provincial police chief Major General Chuon Narin yesterday said the eight were sent to court on Saturday evening for allegedly using violence on police officers, causing injuries and affecting public order by setting up the roadblock.
“Blocking a public road is illegal, it is the same as obstructing the handling of traffic,” Maj Gen Narin said. “When police tried to de-escalate the traffic situation and began opening a way for people to travel, a group of suspects used violence against the authorities who were working to facilitate travel for the general public.”
“It was an illegal act stated as a criminal offence,” he added. “So we arrested them in accordance with legal procedures.”
Maj Gen Narin noted that six security force members were injured in the incident, including four police officers and two commune security guards. He also said that three vehicles were damaged in the incident.
Provincial court spokesman Lim Bun Heng yesterday said that after questioning the eight, the court decided to charge them with hampering or using obstacles to disrupt traffic under Article 80 of the Traffic Law, and violence with aggravating circumstances and causing intentional damage with aggravating circumstances, under Article 218 and Article 411 of the Criminal Code, respectively.
“As of yesterday evening, the eight have been temporarily detained following a decision from the investigating judge,” Mr Bun Heng said.
On Thursday, the provincial administration issued a press release stating that the protestors had been told numerous times to leave the private land, but they did not budge.
“We would like to appeal to the people who have built houses illegally on land belonging to others to immediately stop this action of land encroachment,” it said. “Do not believe the propaganda by some groups that said the land will be sold for a very low price.”
Representatives of the protestors and the families of the eight suspects could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Lieutenant General Hun Manet, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, on Saturday during an inauguration ceremony of a new building in the district appealed to residents to solve land disputes via legal procedures. Lt Gen Manet also said that residents should avoid violence and that police must work hard to protect and serve the people with honesty.
“Please respect the laws together, so we are happy together,” he said.
In January, another group of protestors clashed with security forces in Bit Trang commune as the authorities were carrying out a Supreme Court decision on a disputed land.
It resulted in two residents being injured and the detention of four people who were made to sign a contract promising to stop protesting.
Four provincial military police officers were punished with written blame over the injured residents.
Additionally, last month the government decided to sack two deputy provincial governors over the violence.