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A group of villagers hold their ground in an attempt to stop a bulldozer from clearing land yesterday in Kampong Chhnang’s Kampong Tralach district
A group of villagers hold their ground in an attempt to stop a bulldozer from clearing land yesterday in Kampong Chhnang’s Kampong Tralach district. Heng Chivoan

Face-off turns violent

At least one person was beaten unconscious and more than a dozen injured yesterday in Kampong Chhnang province’s Kampong Tralach district during violent clashes between villagers and armed representatives of a company owned by the wife of Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem.

About 100 employees of KDC Company, armed with scythes, slingshots and iron balls, descended on Ta Ches commune’s Lorpeang village, where residents had blocked them from moving land markers and clearing land in an apparent attempt to extend the company’s concession. Another 200 mixed security forces surrounded the area, waiting to arrest villagers who clashed with the company employees.

“The law is implemented only for the poor. We just try to protect our land, but they rush to pick us up like we are criminals,” villager Om Sophy said. “We were afraid of being arrested this morning; military police raided our houses. But we stopped them and seized one shield, one baton and one walkie-talkie. They did it to provoke us to use violence so that it would make it easy to arrest us.”

KDC employees attempted to ban the Post and other journalists and rights organisations from entering the area yesterday.

When the clashes broke out at about 4:30pm, the Post witnessed one of the company workers, armed with a slingshot and scythe, rush to beat a woman standing in front of an excavator in an attempt to prevent it from clearing land.

Sophy said that despite pleas to come to their aid, authorities had refused to help the villagers.

“The authorities protect the company, and they just wait to arrest people when they have a chance. We are willing to die in our houses,” she said.

Yesterday’s violence was just the latest in a long-running dispute, which began in 2007 when KDC International bulldozed 145 hectares of farmland in the village without compensating local residents.

Siv Chanthy, a young officer dressed in blue who stood with the police, soldiers and military police surrounding the area, said the forces were deployed there to implement an arrest warrant.

“We just came here to implement the warrant, but I do not know how many people will be picked up,” he said.

“I am damn bored and it’s a waste of time. I cannot beat people. What I am afraid of is that the people and the company workers will beat one another, because all the workers have scythes. I do not know when we will be ordered to withdraw.”

Villagers throw sand at KDC employees as they charge forward during a clash over land
Villagers throw sand at KDC employees as they charge forward during a clash over land yesterday in Kampong Chhnang province’s Kampong Tralach district. Heng Chivoan

Prak Vuthy, Kampong Chhnang provincial police chief, could not be reached yesterday, while Chhouk Vandoeun, Kampong Chhnang provincial governor, declined to comment.

KDC representative Thai Hy also declined to comment.

“Brother, I cannot answer related to that matter,” he said.

Chan Soveth, a senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, said the authorities had an obligation to protect people living in the area.

“The warrant seems to protect the company so it can grab people’s land, and they ignore it when the workers use violence against the people. We would like the authorities to stop their irregularities and find a solution that is accepted by both sides,” he said.

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