battambang town – A top court official here said Monday that the villagers involved in the November unrest in Phnom Malai appear to have been tricked into joining the demonstrations in exchange for rice.
Downplaying the extent of discontent among Phnom Malai villagers, Deputy Provincial Court Chief Pech Chuon said only the organizers, not farmers, wanted to demonstrate against the new government.
However, the investigation into the Nov 12 “terrorist” demonstration in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold will likely continue for four more months, he said.
Government officials in Phnom Penh have dismissed the Malai unrest as an isolated incident.
Demonstrators appeared Nov 12 in at least three communes in Malai district and ransacked the head district office.
Malai joined the government after a mass defection in 1996 and is still controlled by ex-Khmer Rouge commanders.
Approximately 80 people in Malai were arrested and 16 were sent to prison in Battambang town, Battambang Court Chief Nil Nonn said last month. One detainee here escaped from jail and the rest of the demonstrators being held in Malai were released, he said.
The 15 who remained detained have said they know nothing about an alleged plot to split Malai from the Phnom Penh government. They were charged last month with committing acts of terrorism.
Pech Chuon said he will visit Malai in January to determine the whereabouts and identities of the “masterminds” of the incident, he said.
Witnesses and residents of Malai are too poor to travel to Battambang town, more than 100 km to the east, Pech Chuon explained.
He also said that the investigation will remain in Battambang’s jurisdiction, though Malai is part of neighboring Banteay Meanchey province.
Court authorities late last month put the investigation on hold for about a week until Ly Vouch Leang, secretary of state for Justice, ordered jurisdiction over the case to remain in Battambang, Pech Chuon and a UN rights worker both said.
Allegations that up to 50 people disappeared from the demonstration have yet to be confirmed, they said. RCAF troops broke up the protest.
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