Five men working for Ratanakkiri rubber concessionaire DM Group, including a soldier, have been arrested for allegedly beating a villager and his children – one of whom, doctors say, may not survive – in a scuffle over their family’s land, the father said yesterday.
Police confirmed the beating and said the soldier would be sent to court today for questioning, while the four non-military suspects would be sent to be charged.
The father, 52-year-old Ry Sarun, said that on Saturday two bulldozers and 30 DM Group workers came to his land in Ratanakkiri’s Andong Meas district – which had previously been measured and titled by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youth volunteers – and began to clear it.
When his children tried to intervene, the workers began to hit them, Sarun said. The workers, he alleged, slapped and kicked his 12-year-old daughter, struck his 21-year-old son in the face and on the arm with a wooden stick, and viciously beat his 14-year-old son on the head and ribs with an iron bar, leaving him with such serious injuries that he had to be taken for treatment in Vietnam, where doctors say blood pooling on his brain makes a recovery unlikely. Sarun said another male villager, 21, who tried to cool the workers’ tempers, was himself beaten over the head with a stick.
“It happened because I did not agree to sell my land to the company, because the youth volunteers measured it for me already,” Sarun said, accusing a DM Group chief of staff named Bul of the attack.
However, Bul, who declined to give his full name when contacted, denied his involvement.
“I know nothing of this problem. I did not order a fight, because I was not at the scene,” he said, maintaining that the family had attempted to set fire to the bulldozers before declining to comment further.
Andong Meas district police chief of staff Kim Channa reinforced at least part of Bul’s version of events, maintaining that the victims had
“intended” to set fire to the bulldozers when DM Group workers persisted in clearing the land over the siblings’ protests.
“The landowners could not stop the clearing and got furious, and intended to burn down the bulldozers, and the brawl started,” he said, adding that the four detained workers were being held at the Ratanakkiri provincial police station, and the soldier had been arrested by military police.
Phen Dyna, deputy provincial police chief, said police were questioning the four men and planned to send them to court today to be charged with intentionally causing injury.
Provincial military police commander Kim Rasmei, however, maintained that the soldier had not been involved in the fighting.
“The soldier is also a driver for [DM Group’s] Uk Nhea, who is the boss of the company, but he knew nothing about the fight. We arrested him because he was armed,” he said, adding that the soldier would be sent to court for questioning today regardless.
DM Group has been implicated in a slew of alleged abuses in its long-running land disputes in Ratanakkiri. Villagers have claimed to have been intimidated by the concessionaire, and observers have suggested that the company has used lawsuits to stifle dissent.
In 2011, a man was shot in the leg by a soldier working for DM Group when he went to guard his soybeans harvested from a nearby plot leased from the company.
Chhay Thy, provincial co-ordinator for rights group Adhoc, called the latest incident a serious human rights violation.
“They tried to force the victim to sell the land, but he refused. It’s a gross violation of human rights. The perpetrators and the one who ordered the fight must be brought to court,” he said, adding that Adhoc would investigate the case on Tuesday and file complaints to the court against any other people found to be involved.