Houy Lai Hin (centre), the mother of Heng Chantha, who was shot dead by security forces last month in Kratie province, speaks to the Post yesterday. Photograph: David Boyle/Phnom Penh Post
Just under three weeks ago, residents in Pro Ma village were running for their lives as security forces opened fire on them with automatic weapons, killing a 14-year-old girl.
About 1,000 police, military police and soldiers stormed their village, fired at them indiscriminately, evicted hundreds of families and have maintained a significant presence ever since.
As the most recent victims in a series of violent crackdowns against communities protesting against land encroachments in Kratie province, their vote in yesterday’s commune elections could have been telling.
But about 180 families in Pro Ma village, which lies inside Chhlong district’s Kampong Damrei commune in an area that has been deforested as far as the eye can see, are not even considered residents and thus do not have the right to vote.
Duch Kunthear, 60, who came to Pro Ma in 2006 from Takeo province during a wave of migration to the remote village, said yesterday he had been waiting ever since for the acting village chief to formally recognise him as a resident.
“I don’t want anybody looking down on us any more, because we have lived here since a long time ago. They should allow us to vote,” he said.
The migrants to Pro Ma established three sub-villages: Chrak Dambang point, Andong Chrov and Sre Chin Phoeng.
None of these villages have been officially recognised, stoking anxiety that they will be brutally evicted, just as about 200 other families, deemed “newcomers”, were on May 16.
The operation was conducted on the pretext of foiling a secessionist plot, but villagers and rights groups alleged it was a forced eviction ordered by the government on behalf of the logging and agro-business firm Casotim.
Military police have maintained a heavy presence in the area since the operation and many, such as 19-year-old Moeun Rin, are nervous that having migrated, they still have no formal recognition as voting citizens.
“I’ve lived here since I was 12, but my commune chief did not recognise me. The reason I want to vote is because I want to show other people I am safe and I will not be forcibly evicted from my village as [others were] the previous time,” he said.
Chheng Chhat, the deputy chief of Kampong Damrei commune, said there were 264 families registered in Pro Ma village and 180 who had yet to be recognised.
“I have requested for those families to the provincial governor already, and I hope that next election they can vote,” he said.
Im Many, Kratie observer for the election monitoring group Comfrel, said about 40 per cent of registered voters in the province had forfeited their right, largely because they were migrants who had no identity card, were confused about voting or simply had no will to.
In Pro Ma, the only people who were allowed to vote were the families that originally settled there after the Khmer Rouge in what is known as Old Pro Ma village, which was not attacked during the May 16 crackdown.
Lai Hit comes from one of those families. Like everyone else in the area, he had no intention of revealing which party he voted for, but said he was well equipped to make a good choice.
“If they do not do what they promised – they said they would reduce corruption – I will not support them any more, because it is my right,” Lai Hit said.
Unofficial results yesterday suggested the ruling Cambodian People’s Party had won all 46 positions as commune chief in Kratie province.
Cambodia’s main opposition, the Sam Raisy Party, picked up 70 council seats, while the royalist Norodom Ranariddh Party won just two.