RATANAKIRI PROVINCE, CAMBODIA —
Dozens of protesters in rural Cambodia broke through a gate and tried to push their way into a provincial court, which had detained three villagers in a land dispute in the northeastern part of the country.
Khan Kosal, a representative of the land dispute victims in remote Ratanakiri province, which borders Vietnam, told VOA that more than 100 people came to the court on Wednesday to call for the release of their fellow villagers.
"We will not leave the court if the court won't release the three villagers," he said. He added the court ''tried the people unfairly," noting those detained were community leaders.
Another villager, Sun Cheata, said, "If the court won't solve this for us and they will grab our land, there will be a heavy impact on the people who depend on the land."
It is not clear if anyone was injured in the protest, which local security forces disbanded after the gate was broken open.
The villagers, who use the land to grow cashew nuts, say they have the proper documentation showing they have communally owned 575 hectares of land since 2007.
The judge at the court told VOA she jailed the three villagers because they were living on someone else's property. She added that the villagers had been invited to come to court to state their case, but never appeared.
Rights violations alleged
Chhay Thy, with the rights group ADHOC, told VOA that the people's rights were violated.
"The people had the documents from the commune, although the other rival people had paper from the youth group who measured the land for the people," he said.
He also said they will appeal their case and call on the prime minister and National Assembly president to intervene.
More than 170,000 families across the country were adversely affected by land disputes in 2014, according to a recent report by the NGO Forum on Cambodia. The report says a third of those came from land concessions, many of which themselves are not legal, in that they exceed a 10,000-hectare limit.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Khmer Service.