KAMPONG Thom villagers involved in a violent land dispute with a Vietnamese rubber company say they have been cut off from food and other supplies after an influx of police officers to the area.
“Today we are facing a shortage of food because our rice stores are nearly finished,” said villager Po Kin. “We cannot go out, and also the vendors cannot come in, so it is very difficult for us now.”
Santuk district police Chief Ek Mat Muoly vowed to ramp up the local police presence after an altercation Monday between villagers and armed officers stationed on the 8,000-hectare economic land concession, which was awarded to the company in 2007 in a move that has been criticised by the hundreds of families already living there.
Villagers burned four vehicles owned by the company before the officers turned on them with knives, hatchets and canes, rights workers said.
Prom Saroth, one of the nine men who were injured, also complained of a food shortage on Thursday, adding that villagers were reluctant to leave because they feared retaliatory harassment from the officers.
“This morning, the police came into the village and opened fire into the sky, and then they shot two of our chickens and took them back to their place,” he said. Ek Mat Muoly denied that the incident had taken place.
Po Kin said residents’ fears had been exacerbated by the arrest on Wednesday of three men accused of inciting villagers to burn the excavator trucks. “Nobody dares to go out because yesterday three villagers took a moto to go buy food, and they were arrested when they left the village,” he said.
“We don’t know why they have not been released yet, and we heard they had been sent to the provincial police department for questioning.”
Ek Mat Muoly said the provincial court had issued arrest warrants for the men, identified by villagers as Heng Han, 66, Toy Sokhorn, 50, and Nai Kep, 21.
“The situation now is still tense, and we must spread our police to protect the company’s property because they come from their country to invest in our country,” he said.
Kampong Thom Governor Chhun Chhorn said Wednesday that 20 warrants had been issued in connection to the altercation.
Chan Soveth, a monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said he had urged the authorities to grant the villagers freedom of movement.
“It is difficult for them when they can’t go outside and people can’t come inside, and they are facing a lack of food,” he said.
Ek Mat Muoly said police officers would “only arrest the leaders who encouraged people to burn company and military police property.... Normal people will not be arrested”.
Provincial prosecutor Pen Sarath said the three arrested men had not been sent to the court as of Thursday afternoon.