The man police allege was behind a so-called secession plan in Kratie province – an accusation used to justify a crackdown in which a teenager was killed last week – plans to hold a press conference to defend himself in the next two days, his brother said yesterday.
Hundreds of heavily armed police and military police assisted by a helicopter stormed Pro Ma village in Chhlong district’s Kampong Damrei commune on Wednesday and opened fire on villagers with automatic weapons, killing 14-year-old Heng Chantha.
The Ministry of Interior said they ordered the operation because a group known as Democratic Association, which they alleged was led by Bun Ratha, was planning to create an independent state in the village.
Eight people have been arrested in connection with the accusations.
But villagers and an anonymous military police official involved in the operation have said it was an eviction conducted on behalf of the company Casotim – which has a nearby 15,000-hectare economic land concession and long-running land dispute with the village.
Bun Thav, 22, said his older brother Bun Ratha – who is now in hiding – did not care if holding a press conference led to his arrest because he wanted to publicly clear his name.
“My older brother Bun Ratha is living in a safe place, and he will be able to hold a press conference on Monday or Tuesday to demonstrate that the government allegation against him – he did not commit as alleged,” he said.
“He had just been in the area from March 10, 2012, to May 6, 2012. How could he establish an autonomous area during that short period?” he said.
A 2000 International Monetary Fund staff country report listed the Cambodian government as of June 2000 as a 20 per cent stakeholder in Casotim, the rest of which was Russian-owned.
Officials from the Ministry of Economy and Finance could not be reached to confirm whether or not the government still had a stake is Casotim.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak alleged in a statement released on the same day as the crackdown, that there were four other Democratic Association ringleaders: Bun Chhorn, 55, Sok Tong, 61, Ma Chhang, 47, and Khat Saroeun, 42. All of them have thus far evaded arrest.
Kratie provincial court deputy prosecutor Norng Thuch Banchak Santepheap said yesterday that eight other suspects had been arrested since the operation began and were being held temporarily in jail for questioning.
“I do not remember what they were accused of, because they were charged with four or five cases,” he said.
Police have said the eight male suspects being detained are Touch Riem, 33, Kan Sovann, 54, Pom Vannak, 24, Poan Sroeun, 32, Mao Veasna, 33, Hang Phal, 48, Heng Thoeun, 31, and Sa Roeun, 24.
Heng Srey Mom, the older sister of Heng Chantha, said the 14-year-old was innocent of any crime and yet had been shot dead.
“When we heard the sound of explosions [gunfire], myself and my sister knelt down below the house together, but my sister was shot,” she said. “I would like to call for the government to find justice for my younger sister, because she should not have been killed like an animal.”
Kratie provincial governor Sar Chamrong refused to comment on Sunday because he said he was too busy.
Chan Sovet, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the area – which was closed to human rights groups and the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights – remained under police lockdown yesterday.
“We are concerned about armed forces who try to arrest the villagers that want to live in the area, and have asked the authorities to stop continually apprehending them,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]